European Defence Agency: A Core Instrument for European Militarisation
by Christopher Steinmetz
EDA can be regarded as a contribution to EU militarisation
After a long period of idleness, interrupted by occasional half-hearted calls for of an
European Armaments Policy and an European Armaments Agency, the idea to create a European
agency in the field of armaments, research and military capabilities gained momentum in
During the preparatory work for a "Treaty establishing a Constitution for
Europe" it became clear that the interests of all major actors were converging on
this issue. Every group, ranging from the European Commission and the arms industry to the
EU-member states and European Council, regarded the creation of a co-ordinating agency as
the first step towards the solution of their subjective problems.
As it became obvious towards the end of 2003 that the ratification of the
"European Constitution" and the therein included creation of an European Agency
for Armaments, Research and Military Capabilities will - at best - be delayed until 2007,
the European Council began pursuing its establishment through a Joint Action. In July
2004, only half a year later, the European Defence Agency (EDA) was officially created by
the European Council.
Of course many issues regarding the European Defence Agency (EDA) still remain to be
settled. But already the way towards its inception and the broad mandate handed to EDA
imply that regardless of whoevers interests will eventually dominate the agency, EDA
will be a contribution to European militarisation:
- Defence ministers of the EU member states, being put in charge of EDA, now have their
own instrument to shape the political debate on ESDP at the European level
- EDA will plan and co-ordinate the build-up and modernisation of the military means for
intervention and propagate an increase in defence spending and procurement
- EDA has the necessary instruments to shape the direction of future military research and
development of respective technologies
- EDA will restructure the European defence market, most likely thereby strengthening the
European arms industry and liberalise the arms trade
Furthermore, this process will be pursued by the various interested groups without
adequate "Checks & Balances" in place. The already opaque political
decision-making structures in the defence field on the national level will become even
hazier on the intergouvernmental European level. Strengthening democratic control,
transparency and public participation are unfortunately no items on the political agenda.
EDAs specific contributions to European militarisation
In line with its broad mandate, the European Defence Agency (EDA) is quickly moving
forward and staking its claims vis-a-vis other actors. On November 22nd, 2004
the Steering Board of EDA held its 2nd meeting in Brussels charting the course
of action for 2005. On the same day, the same ministers met for the Military Capabilities
Commitments Conference. There they confirmed the special contribution EDA will make to the
build-up of capabilities for military interventions, specifically through a better
guidance and co-ordination of the present Project Groups in the ECAP process.
This clearly points to the main factor which will ensure EDAs success: its
ability to offer a comprehensive approach for European militarisation. As an interlocutor
and catalyst between the Military Command and Military Staff of the General Secretariat
and the European Council as well as through the involvement of the national defence
ministries EDA will soon possess the capacity for long term strategic planning, for
providing necessary financial means and to act as an co-ordinating authority which can
apply pressure on individual member states to comply.
The EDA Steering Board is moving fast to seize the initiative in various relevant
fields. The work schedule for 2005 already identified the following tasks:
- defining the precise direction of the ECAP planning process
- increasing the military capabilities in the field of command, control, communication and
- dealing with the questions of configuration and logistical support for the largest
European military procurement project, military transport aircraft A400 M,
- identifying convergence requirements for the armoured fighting vehicles sector and
proposing common projects aimed at restructuring this secto,
- preparing a technology demonstration project on long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles.
But for the mid-term the main strategic focus of the agency will lie in pulling
together the various existing but dispersed multilateral instruments in order to secure
its central position and set the standards for future state co-operation on defence
Aside from strategic planning and monitoring tasks in the ECAP process and Headline
Goals 2010, this means e.g. an integration of the military research & development
instruments of the Western European Armaments Group (WEAG) and the attached Organisation
(WEAO), including a registry of all military test sites and the EUROPA MoU, which permits
the management of military research & development in a multilateral frame by a small
group of states.
Another issue will be the adaptation of some of the aspects negotiated in the Framework
Agreement concerning Measures to Facilitate the Restructuring and Operation of the
European Defence Industry (short "Framework Agreement") of 2001. This far
reaching agreement signed by the six largest arms procuring and producing EU-member states
provides a basis for a far reaching liberalisation of the arms trade, a commitment to
reduce duplication of arms production capacities, access to government funded research and
support for transnational industrial mergers.
A third instrument to be pulled into the agencies reach will be the Organisme Conjointe
de Cooperation en matiere dArmements (OCCAR). Created by Germany, France, Great
Britain and Italy in a lengthy process between 1996 and 2001, this agency was designed to
manage multinational arms procurement projects. The main innovation was the decision to
abandon the principle of "juste retour" which linked the share of national
procurement costs to the share of national industrial participation. OCCAR is presently
managing projects worth about 33 billion . Making OCCAR the procurement arm of the
EDA Armaments Directorate would give the agency a powerful instrument to push governments
into procurement programmes. EDA would become a central intermediary by handling a large
share of national defence expenditures.
Of special importance and deserving public attention is the future development of the
agencys relation to the European Commission. The Commission has a seat on the EDA
steering board without voting rights unless financial contributions of the Commission are
involved. Such an involvement will most likely occur in the area of Research &
Development. There, the Commission is presently setting the pace. In 2004 it launched a
Preparatory Action to determine the inclusion of security-related research in the 7th
Framework Programme for Research. A so called "Group of Personalities",
including the usual suspects from the arms industry, advised to include additional funds
of around 1 billion for security-related technologies. This will make the
Commission an attractive partner for EDA and could lead to an unchecked increase in
defence-related research designed to improve the interventionist capabilities.
EDA will be a success story
Naturally, this expansion of responsibilities wont be a smooth process. Many
issues have a conflict potential and the time schedule could be delayed by the haggling
One potential trip-wire is the future relationship of the EDA to the U.S. and to the
involvement of the U.S. arms industry in the build up of European military capabilities.
It is difficult to imagine that European governments would agree on a common project
financing structure only to purchase U.S. technology. On the other hand, member states
like Great Britain emphasis at each possible moment, that the choice of procurement venues
should not be proscribed by the EDA.
Another problem will be the status of the OCCAR. The influential OCCAR-states, foremost
again Great Britain, insist on the future independence of this body. According to them,
projects initiated by EDA can be transferred to OCCAR for the procurement management but
have to follow the OCCAR guidelines. In the long run this will not be tolerable for
non-OCCAR-states, since they could only choose to follow the rules or not.
Nevertheless, the main course is charted, and it is not the question, if EDA will be an
influential player, but only when.
There are two interdependent reasons for assuming that EDA will be a success. First,
the agency is a product of the traditional approach of the EU to transform complex
political issues (here a European Armaments Policy) into incremental technical and
administrative steps. Only after setting up such a mechanism (like the EDA) the policy
dimension is reintroduced to fill the vacuum. Second, all relevant political and
industrial actors agree that present initiatives, regimes and institutions lack the power
and coherence necessary to solve the overlapping industrial, military, technical and
budgetary issues. More importantly, each of them believes to be capable of shaping EDA
according to their respective wishes.
The EU member states with greater industrial capacity and larger defence budgets regard
the agency as a means to leverage some of the military costs on other member states,
retain control of the direction of European militarisation and strengthen their national
arms industry for transatlantic competition. In addition, EDAs work structure allows
those states to pursue co-operation in closed project groups, retaining absolute control
of the work share and access to technical information. At the same time, they have the
power to shape the national procurement policies of the other member states by determining
the equipment standards and opening the respective defence markets for the big
The European Commission regards the agency as an important step towards establishing a
common defence market without custom barriers. Harmonising procurement requirements and
opening the national defence markets for competition would not only strengthen the arms
industry, in whose interest the Commission claims to speak, but would also finally
establish Commission responsibility for ALL economic transactions inside the European
Union. In addition, cooperation through EDA would allow the Commission to gain a foothold
in the exclusive ESDP domain of military hardware.
For the Europe-based transnational arms corporations the creation of EDA holds many
promises. First and foremost, a single European procurement agency able to sign binding
contracts would allow the companies to focus their efforts only on one supranational body
instead of all national entities. In addition, such contracts would cover larger
quantities and would make it more difficult for states to reduce their orders. Second,
industry expects EDA to push for a liberalisation of national defence markets. Third, the
agency is seen as an ideal instrument to speed the harmonisation and standardisation of
military requirements and contracting. Fourth, industry expects EDA to introduce some
protective measures against the U.S. defence industry and apply pressure on the member
states to "buy European". Last but not least, such an European Defence Agency
will most likely grant the arms industry a privileged position as an advisor to the
agency. This would give them far-reaching power to determine future research topics and
procurement needs. In the past, the arms lobby group European Defence Industries Group
(EDIG) enjoyed such a privileged position in the WEAG structures. In the wake of the
preparations for the agency, EDIG joined forces with their aerospace counterpart in spring
2004 and founded the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD).
EDA offers an intransparent future
Through EDA the European Union now has an instrument to pursue and shape the future
European Armaments Policy. Regardless of which actors will be able to shape the agency
according to their wishes, it is certain, that EDAs existence will lead to more
military spending and more procurement programmes. This will be connected to a further
liberalisation of the intra-EU trade to reduce the procurement costs and - most likely -
also a further increase in European arms exports. The agency will also be an entrance
point for the arms industry to become formally involved in the military planning process.
In the past, they had to pursue indirect avenues through the Commission, the WEAG or
single European member states in order to introduce policy proposals.
The growing concentration of strategic planning and decision-making power in
multinational, supranational or intergouvernmental settings will have repercussions on the
already marginal national democratic control and transparency in the defence field.
Binding agreements on the European level will serve as justifications for the governments
vis-a-vis their parliaments. Access to information about ongoing or commencing projects
can be easily blocked since the dissemination would violate the security interests of
All in all, there is an urgent need to change the present Europeanisation process in
the field of arms policy. This requires first and foremost the introduction of effective
democratic checks and balances for EDA and Commission initiatives. One possible avenue
would be to strengthen the role of the European Parliament as a legitimate overseer of the
EDA and the Commissions conduct of business in the security field, especially regarding
the respective allocation of finances and project decisions taken, similar to the WEU
Assembly. Leaving aside the enormous challenge to convince the EU Council to share
information, this would require establishing an adequately staffed Committee on Defence
Affairs and improving and formalising the information exchange with their repective
counterparts in the national parliaments on arms issues.
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