Harmonizing defense procurement across Europe has been a decades-long goal, one rekindled as military spending plunges.
For the first time in a decade, top European leaders will meet in December to consider joint projects and how to better integrate Europe’s disparate and sprawling industrial base.
European Union Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier wants to develop a new medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft as an alternative to America’s Reaper.
Reliable, capable and proven, the Reaper has been bought by Britain, Italy and Turkey, and is being eyed by France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Barnier also wants Europe to buy planes and ships for pooled use by member states, and better integrate cyber and maritime security networks.
Common European procurement is a noble goal, but one that has proven elusive because of conflicting national interests. Britain and Italy bought Reapers because their combat troops needed capability.
Italy’s air chief, Lt. Gen. Pasquale Preziosa, wisely observes: “If we have a Predator, why should we develop another Predator?”
Europe should have gotten its UAV act together a decade ago. The money was there — many nations and companies have invested hundreds of millions of euros in systems — but due to lack of national or collective will, none succeeded.
At a time when Europe faces declining spending, it’s imperative to invest what it can spend more wisely. European Defence Agency deserves credit for driving smarter training, pooling and sharing, and more common programs.
The challenge, as ever, is setting common goals. Barnier said common European defense means more than Anglo-French cooperation, but the two came together in 2010, frustrated by wider cooperative efforts. Even in that relationship, military-to-military links have been easier than industrial ones.
Before December’s meeting, European leaders must so some clear-headed thinking. Will they invest in reinventing wheels or in the future? Will they move to erect walls or forge more trans-Atlantic partnerships of mutual advantage? What they can’t afford are any more pointless declarations.