BRUSSELS – A new European Commission directorate has been set up for defense industries and space with the portfolio given to Sylvie Goulard, a former French defense minister.

As prospective EU commissioner for the bloc’s single market Goulard will be tasked partly with coordinating the EU’s fragmented defense industry on research and development projects.

Some will see the move as a signal that the incoming European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, formerly Germany’s defense minister, wants Europe to take more responsibility for its own defense.

Goulard will first face a nomination hearing in the European Parliament next month but this is expected to be a formality before she takes up her new post on Nov. 1.

The appointment has fueled concerns that ever closer EU integration on defense could trigger renewed turf wars between member states, NATO and the United States.

But a European Commission source said that if Europe is to compete worldwide, “it will need to pool and integrate its best defense capabilities, as it is estimated that by 2025 China will become the second-biggest defense spender in the world after the United States."

While there is currently no EU army and defense remains a matter for member states, the bloc has recently taken big steps to boost cooperation.

The Commission has proposed a marked increase in the EU budget for defense and external security: €22.5 billion for 2021-2027, compared to €2.8 billion for the 2014-2020 period. If agreed, the draft seven-year EU budget from 2021 allocates €13 billion to a European Defense Fund (EDF) to promote cross-border collaboration on defense research and technology projects, plus another €6.5 billion to upgrade roads, bridges, rail lines, ports and airports for so-called military mobility, and €16 billion on space programs.

Several defense-related initiatives and mechanisms have been set up in recent years, including the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the Coordinated Annual Review of Defence (CARD) and the European Defence Fund. These initiatives and the proposed increase in funding at the level of the EU and national budgets can be regarded as a “step change” for European defence.

Concern about deeper EU integration often comes from the UK, which is due to exit the EU on Oct. 31 and traditionally has been highly critical of Brussels assuming more control over defense. British Tory MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, a former senior British Army officer, believes the EU is attempting to duplicate the NATO command structure and to duplicate “all aspects of NATO.”

“While I remain a strong supporter of our defense industries - in the UK, for example, they are major strategic contributors, hi-tech innovators and employers - I do not believe that European interference is what is required to assist them," he said.

Denis Macshane, a former Europe Minister in the UK, said, “If Europe and the EU is to move to a coherent defence policy this will have to be driven from within the member states themselves. It cannot be ordained by Brussels.”

Martin Banks covered the European Union, NATO and affairs in Belgium for Defense News.

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