BRUSSELS — European Union policymakers have backed plans that will see the organization financially support the European defense industry in an effort to promote new product development.

The EU subsidies are intended to encourage companies from different countries to cooperate in the development phase of new and upgraded defense products and technologies in the EU.

Under the plan, some €500 million (U.S. $615 million) will be allocated in 2019 and 2020 for the new program, which is aimed at cross-EU country development of EU defense capabilities. This could, for example, include drones for military use or a European cybersecurity mechanism.

The amount could increase to €1 billion per year from 2021 and possibly boost pan-EU cooperation on large weapons systems, such as aircraft, battle tanks and naval ships.

To foster pan-EU development of defense systems, a requirement states that a minimum of three companies from three EU countries participate.

On Wednesday, a majority of members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy voted in favor of the European Defence Industrial Development Programme regulation. So-called trialogue negotiations on the program will begin mid-March.

Increased cooperation in the EU-wide defense industry seeks to strengthen the competitiveness of the sector on a global scale.

The move was welcomed by senior French Member of the European Parliament Françoise Grossetête, chairwoman of the Working Group Economy and Environment, who, speaking from Brussels, said the program will “strengthen our capability to defend our countries and citizens, improve our strategic autonomy, foster innovation, and create jobs in Europe.”

“This is a ground-breaking way of thinking in the development of our defense capabilities and an important step towards a European defense union,” she said.

“We need to have fewer weapons systems in order to maximize our defense collaboration in the field and get the most out of the public money we spend on defense, and this is a way to achieve it,” she added. “The all-European defense technological and industrial base — in particular our [small and medium-sized enterprises] and mid-caps — will benefit from this program. Excellence and innovation will be the main drivers.”

But the plan was condemned by the Greens, who put forward a counter-proposal seeking greater EU cooperation without additional funds for the arms industry.

Reinhard Bütikofer, spokesman for security policy and shadow rapporteur for the Greens/European Free Alliance group, said the program will “do far too little to fight the huge inefficiencies prevailing in defense procurement EU-wide.”

“The EU arms sector certainly does not need to be propped up by resources from the EU’s civil budget. Rather, we need to pool national defense spending more effectively,” he said. “The EU member states must work together to ensure that outcomes are reliable and produce shared technologies that genuinely increase Europe’s security.

“EU governments must combine their defense spending on research, development, acquisition, training and maintenance in a comprehensive way.

“It is incomprehensible that the majority of [members of European Parliament] could not back our proposals to demand a legal framework for the use of armed drones. Any future EU money for armed drones should be tied to strict compliance with international law.”

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

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