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France Looking to Kickstart Debate on Permanent EU Fund for EU Military Operations

Dec. 19, 2013 - 11:02AM   |  
By JULIAN HALE   |   Comments
The European Defence Agency is running a 50 million euro program on RPAS for air traffic insertion via demonstration projects.
The European Defence Agency is running a 50 million euro program on RPAS for air traffic insertion via demonstration projects. (European Defence Agency)
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BRUSSELS — France will be putting forward a proposal to create a permanent fund to finance EU military operations at the summit of EU heads of state and government here Dec19 and 20.

“We can’t continue to do things on a case-by-case basis and improvise as we’re doing in places like Mali and Libya,” a French diplomat told Defense News. “We need long-term financing for this kind of operation,” he said, stressing that the aim was not have a “ready made solution at the summit but to have a reference to this somewhere in the written summit conclusions.”

“We expect to be asked to develop options for financing EU operations given the legal framework of the EU treaty and the review of the Athena mechanism in 2014-2015,” said an EU diplomat. The Athena mechanism is a short-term, ad hoc fund which EU member states contribute to when they need to to pay for common EU costs such as buying accommodations for soldiers traveling to Mali. The EU diplomat did not have further details of the proposal.

EU leaders will be talking about four European Defence Agency programs during the summit: Air-to-air refueling, remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS or drones), cyber defense and satellite communications.

Air-to-air refueling (AAR) is required to enable sustained air combat operations. Recent operations have demonstrated a significant European capability gap in this area. To address these concerns, the European Defence Agency (EDA) and EU member states are looking at the possibility of buying a European strategic Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) capability by 2020. Nine countries — Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands (lead country), Poland, Portugal, Norway and Spain — signed a letter of intent to do this in 2012. The UK has its own Voyager program and “has an interest in possible synergies when the tankers come into service” said an EU diplomat.

As for drones, “no EU member state can develop on their own a new generation of medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) observation drones, so cooperation is very important here,” said an EU diplomat. The European Commission is preparing regulations for the insertion of drones into civilian airspace, while the EDA is running a 50 million euro Joint Investment Programme on RPAS for air traffic insertion via demonstration projects focusing on technological priorities such as sense and avoid, taxi, automatic take-off and landing, air traffic management interfaces, safe automated monitoring and decision architecture.

Defense budgets across the EU are down 10 percent since 2006, but “more worrying is that the cuts in defense budgets have hit research budgets hardest,” said the EU diplomat. “Unless priority is given to research, we’ll lose out on innovation capacity,” she warned. “This would have an impact on the EU’s technological independence and its freedom of action […] We’re talking of long cycles. It’ll be hard to bring the capacity back when it’s lost.”

Asked by Defense News about the results of the UK’s review of its membership of the EDA, the EU diplomat said that the “first review ended last year and the UK decided to stay in but to constantly assess the value of its membership.”

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