If the defense sector has always been of crucial importance for the European project, the establishment of a common defense market has presented itself as a struggle. Ever since the era of the Cold War and the failure of the European Defence Community to fully emerge, the shadow of a common defense market has not ceased haunting its Brussels offices.
Yet, nowadays, some encouraging developments must be highlighted, notably the signature of 23 member states as part of a joint notification on Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, fostering cooperation between member states in the area of defense and security. This step forward is worth noticing in a world shaken by new dynamics in geopolitics; and it is an echoing response to the words of the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker: “If Europe does not take care of its own security, nobody else will do it for us. A strong, competitive and innovative defence industrial base is what will give us strategic autonomy.”
An innovation policy of the 21st century is all the more needed to address the challenges of modern warfare. The development of a European Union common-defense market should be the tool enabling the implementation of a forward-looking innovation policy on the continent.
For the common EU defense market to truly emerge, the European Union and its member states must do more for the private sector. Indeed, notwithstanding political obstacles, mainly due to strategic disparities among union members, the creation of a common defense market on the continent will continue to be haltered if nothing is done to empower the defense industry within.
Hence, the cornerstone of any efficient industrial-military consortium is the promotion of research and development, the realization of economies of scales, and the standardization of military production. If achieved, such processes will provide the tools necessary to address the many security challenges ahead. But behind the grandiloquent statements, the development of the defense industry has remained largely isolated from the elaboration of a common defense market.
It is therefore key to reinforce platforms of discussion between EU policymakers and industry leaders. In particular, having written this before the Dec. 4 European Defence Industry Summit, the event is expected to bring together politics and business with the aim of developing and pursuing common goals. By discussing the feasibility of a common defense market, both at a political and industrial level, the European Union is able to mobilize the private sector around a common ambition, thus promoting a bottom-up approach. The summit also represents the opportunity for NATO and the EU to expose their views on the future of the industry.
In addition, such discussions should allow policymakers to translate their strategic needs into real capabilities developed by the industry. It gives a chance for industry experts to express their concerns about the future of defense and how strategic decisions may impact their long-term model for developments. Such a platform enables the contribution of small and medium-sized enterprises, academia, and civil society to the debate thanks to the varied organization of numerous debates.
Of course the promotion of such a model of innovation must result in the strict delimitation of boundaries between public and private partnerships purposely to avoid, as expressed by former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the “rise of misplaced power.” Where the limit in public-private partnership should be established ought to have been one of the most debated topics at the European Defence Industry Summit.
This being said, the lack of incentives toward the private defense industry is maybe not the greatest threat to the creation of a common market. In fact, the problematic components of the situation run deeper within the continent and lie in its lack of a common, grand strategy. Transnational terrorism, military buildup in Eastern Europe and insecurity in North Africa reveal the regional disparities of the European Union and the difficulty for the industry to adapt, as each threat requires a specific, tactical response and its own development scheme.
Such dilemma must be solved in order for the industry to advance and to truly embrace the project of a common EU defense market. The definition of strategy has always been key to military success; or as the author of “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu, put it: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Arnaud Thysen is director general of the European Business Summit, which touts itself as “an organisation that creates one of the largest networking and debating events in Brussels.”