21st Mar 2018

EU to mull new defence post at commission

  • EU gearing up for greater defence and security cooperation (Photo: Finnish army)

The EU should have a commissioner dedicated to defence and security to ease the burden on foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, according to an MEP who has written a report on setting up a European defence union.

"I am clearly convinced that in the European Commission there should be a special commissioner on defence and security," Urmas Paet, an Estonian liberal MEP, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (15 November).

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Paet said Mogherini was overstretched with too many portfolios.

"She is doing everything, the whole world, all the foreign policy, all the conflicts, all the defence, security and so on," he said.

His report, if adopted next week, will shape the European Parliament's political direction in terms of defence and security for years to come.

Paet, who is also Estonia's former minister of foreign affairs, says the new commissioner post is not explicit in his report but is rather understood in terms of the broader security context.

The ambition behind the report, he says, is to give "some content" to a European defence and security cooperation.

The idea is to boost defence spending, shore up research, and break down administrative barriers when it comes to things like moving troops across EU states.

That means opening future EU budgets to defence spending to pay for troop movements, accommodation, and industry research, he said.

The mood on security and defence is now warming up to ideas broadly disregarded only a few years ago.

Earlier this week, EU foreign and defence ministers laid the groundwork to create a mini military HQ and joint rapid-reaction forces.

Germany's defence minister Ursula von der Leyen in the wake of Trump's US presidential election victory had also urged for greater EU defence integration. Mogherini made similar comments.

The recent spate of terrorist attacks in Europe, Russian aggression in Ukraine, turmoil in Libya, war in Syria, have all factored into what Paet says is a major shift towards strengthening European defence.

The biggest obstacle to the defence plans, he said, will be the money.

"European cooperation defence with Europe should go hand in hand with budget,it should go hand in hand with the next multi-annual financial framework, otherwise not much will happen," Paet said.

EU states will also have to dig deep to budget at least 2 percent of their respective GDPs to Nato.

EU money for defence research

The defence industry was granted direct access to the EU budget, for the first time, as part of three pilot projects launched earlier this month.

The EU commission and the European Defence Agency in late October had signed the grant agreements to finance the projects overseen by the defence industry.

EDA chief Jorge Domecq described the agreement as "a new chapter in the way defence research can be funded in Europe”.

One of projects includes creating "unmanned heterogeneous swarm of sensor platforms", which could help develop future systems for border control.

Another project aims to improve a soldier's awareness and navigation in a building by using miniaturised sensors.

Current funding under the EU's Horizon 2020 programme is restricted to civilian or so-called dual-use research.

But the long term goal is set aside billions of euros from the EU budget for defence research.

Those plans had been initiated by the European Parliament in 2014, which along with the member states, then agreed to earmark expenditure for defence research in the annual EU budget for the pilot projects.

According to the Domecq, defence research across EU states shrunk by 32 percent, or around €1 billion, between 2006 and 2014.

And next year, the EU commission also plans to launch its preparatory action on defence research.

"It will be the real acid test for proving the relevance of defence research," said Domecq.

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