BRUSSELS — Italian Defense Minister Mario Mauro called for EU leaders to cooperate more on defense at the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee meeting here Monday.
Aside from reasserting the importance of defense, he wants a December summit meeting of EU leaders to set out a timetable to boost integration.
He sees the meeting “not as a point of arrival” but “a point of departure” leading to higher levels of integration among EU member states. Whether the EU could have a truly common security concept is a major challenge, he said.
A key problem is that Europe is losing capacities that have given it a high operational value, he said. Defense can only be effective if it is integrated, he said, adding, “we cannot get bogged down in petty industrial disputes within one country or region.”
In 2010, he said that €34 billion (US $44.6 billion) was invested by EU countries in systems and equipment, of which €7.5 billion went into joint procurement by two or more EU countries. By comparison, €246 million was spent on technology between two or more EU countries.
“If we spend on smart defense [i.e. pooling and sharing], this will help the situation,” he said. “The sovereignty of member states is extremely serious and cannot be overlooked overnight. But we need a change of national policy to lead away from national priorities.”
French MEP Arnaud Danjean, the chair of the European Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, argued for more collective EU spending on defense. With regard to the idea of restructuring Europe’s defense industry, he said that no EU member state is ready for the resulting loss of jobs and industry in the short term and asked how Italy was structuring its debate on this subject. Mauro dodged the question.
He also gave no reply to the same MEP’s suggestion for the EU to produce a white paper listing the defense priorities on which the EU wants to make progress, or to questions about the prospects for the European Defence Agency’s air-to-air refueling initiatives, the role of EU battlegroups and permanent structured cooperation [an idea in the EU’s Lisbon Treaty under which a group of EU countries could press on with defense cooperation without the others].
Asked by British MEP Geoffrey Van Orden about how Italy wanted to see NATO strengthened, he said that “a stronger Europe with a more integrated military cannot help but strengthen NATO.”
On the post-2014 strategy for Afghanistan, he said, “Italy has no intention to throw away efforts to deliver stability and bring about progress in Afghanistan.”