Jorge Domecq, chief executive of the European Defence Agency, digs into investment of the European Defence Fund, whether companies based in the U.K. will get a shot at those investments post-Brexit and what the EU's growing focus on defense means for NATO.

BRUSSELS — A high-level summit in Brussels was told that a solid European defense industry is critical for an autonomous European defense sector.

But Jorge Domecq, chief executive of the European Defence Agency (EDA) stressed that this did not mean Europe “turns its back” to cooperation with partners such as the United States.

“Quite the contrary,” he told the European Defence Industry Summit. The cyber field, said Domecq, is just one example of the need for continued partnership, dialogue and exchange, “notably across the Atlantic.”

But this also means transatlantic burden sharing is not limited to the doctrinal and operational domains only, but should include the technological and industrial dimension.

“The technological dimension is indeed of particular importance in times where defense industry is facing the challenge to integrate fast-evolving, if not disruptive, technologies coming from the civilian sector, so as to develop state-of-the-art capabilities,” Domecq said. “The U.S. Third Offset Strategy clearly addresses this issue.”

The one day summit Dec. 4 emphasized that while EU defense cooperation remains a priority for Europe, questions remain. For example, it remains unclear how to prioritize and strengthen European security, or how to achieve a “strong and innovative” European defense sector.

Domecq, who gave the opening keynote address, said the summit came at the end of a “remarkable year” in European defense.

He told the 200-strong gathering: “Following last year’s launch of the EU Global Strategy, this year has focused on delivering on the promise to make the EU a more credible actor in security and defense as well as make the EU assume its fair share of the transatlantic defense burden.”

He believes that to build and develop defense capabilities “we need collaborative programs and projects led by member states.”

He added: “To successfully implement those programs, we need a competitive and innovative European defense technological and industrial base.”

Domecq, who has been in his current role since 2015, pledged that the EU will “systematically” encourage defense cooperation and strive to create a “solid” European defense industry, adding that this is “critical for Europe’s autonomy of decision and action.”

Turning to the specific role of the defense industry, he told the conference it was necessary to reach out to innovative companies beyond the traditional players within defense industry.

“Engagement with industry can be more efficient, successful and of greater value if it responds to and meets commonly agreed objectives,” he added.

Looking to the future, the EDA chief said a priority for enhanced interaction with the defense sector was capability development. A test case of improved dialogue between Industry and capability planers is, he noted, now being underway by the EDA on the long-term aspects of military warfare focused on remotely piloted air systems. Another priority area is research, technology and innovation, where the aim, he said, is to maximize the development of new projects with the participation of industry.

Some have criticized the EU’s defense ambitions as a “power grab” which may conflict with NATO, but Domecq insisted that the EDA’s interaction with industry “will be without prejudice to the member states’ role as the ultimate decision makers both in capability and R&T domains.”

He added: “The interaction will ensure fair and equal treatment of different industrial stakeholders as well as competition at all levels.”

Domecq, a senior Spanish diplomat said that apart from enhanced engagement with industry, the EDA will continue to provide support to the sector to build cross-border partnerships, and improve information sharing.

“The renewed focus on the promotion of cooperative capability development programs, the generally increasing defense budgets, and the European Commission’s determination to provide financial support to defense related-activities all have created favorable conditions for strengthening the European defense technological and industrial base,” he said.

The summit took place the same week that foreign ministers from Europe and North America, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, will meet in Brussels to discuss how to increase the interoperability between NATO and the European Union.