Blogging on Issues of International and European Security

European Defense at a Crossroads – The European Defense Agency (EDA) as a Credible Facilitator of Change

by Raluca Csernatoni

The Creation of the European Defense Agency (EDA)

Over the last decade, the European Union’s (EU) major military powers, under the umbrella of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), have increasingly collaborated to build a more integrated, technologically and economically superior defense industry and market. In June 2003 in Thessaloniki, EU Member States first announced their intention to create a European Defense Agency under their control, and recognised back then that a strong European defense indeed matters. After almost a year and under a Joint Action of the Council of Ministers on 12 July 2004, the EU member states decided to create the European Defense Agency[1] (EDA) for the purpose of supporting them and the Council to improve European defense capabilities in the field of CSDP crisis management missions.

Within the CSDP framework, the EDA offers the promise for institutionalising a “common” defense dimension, as a response to the afore-mentioned increased expectations established by CSDP missions. Several steps have been made in the formation of a European joint capabilities base, stringently needed to improve the EU’s operational capacity and its long-term vision for an integrated European defense identity. In that respect, the EDA has put forward three long-term strategies to reinforce CSDP capabilities.

Eurofighter Typhoon (

Eurofighter Typhoon

The Strategy for the European Defense Technological and Industrial Base[2] (EDTIB) set up in 2007 targeted the EU’s self-sufficiency in key defense industrial capabilities and technologies. Conversely, the European Defense Research and Technology Strategy[3] in 2008 recognised strategic technologies and skills that needed to be preserved or further developed in Europe, and it further endorsed collaborative research and technology projects. Lastly, the European Armaments Cooperation Strategy[4] in 2008 pursued the expansion of cross-border defense cooperation. All three strategies were based on the evidence that individually, not even the biggest EU countries are able to bolster national armament industries and to provide a broad range of cutting-edge weaponry at competitive prices.

The European Council Conclusions from 19-20 December 2013

 The EU institutional machinery made a considerable step forward and moved with an impressive pace in putting forward the concept of a defense agency since its creation in 2003. It had as a main purpose the improvement of military capabilities and it aimed to boost a dormant defense industry and market, to expand the collaboration between member states on defense issues and to streamline technological research in the defense field. Such prerequisites were made particularly clear by the conclusions from 19-20 December 2013 European Council[5] meeting on defense priorities for the European Union. This moment signified that there was an important shift in the strategic vision of EU member states that prompted them to upgrade the European defense programme through the improvement of “smart” weaponry and the creation of a competitive European defense industry and market.

After more than a decade since the EDA’s creation, the Council recognised that the EU finds itself constrained by the same complex and growing security challenges that prompted the creation of the agency in the first place. The security crises are coupled by increased economic structural pressures calling for the creation of a “mean and lean” EU defense dimension. On top of that, peace keeping missions require cutting-edge capabilities that ensure the overall protection of both soldiers and civilians involved in theatres of action. In the words of High Representative Catherine Ashton, “The EU needs to protect its interests and promote its values, and it needs to be able to act as a security provider both in its neighborhood and at the international level”[6].

 There is, from this point of view, an increasing necessity to pool member states’ efforts towards a common denominator. The EDA has been set up with the exact purpose of coordinating the defense spending of member states. As a top-down institutional approach and coordination at the EU level, the EDA is to address inefficient and inadequate defense spending, indicating the EU’s intention to surpass the “capabilities-expectations gap”[7].

The rationale behind the workings of the EDA speaks for itself. Member States have to acknowledge that they cannot face alone the security challenges of the 21st century. Individually they not only lack the necessary military power to stand alone, but they also lag behind in terms of competitive defense industries. Hence, the gains for collaborating under the umbrella of the EDA surpass by far the costs of non-cooperation. The December 2013 Council meeting, for the first time in seven years, substantially discussed the European defense policy priorities and demonstrated that an emerging majority view among EU Member States was being formed, concerning how existing capability gaps could be filled collectively at a time of decreasing defense budgets.

Several ranking goals and guiding lines were established by the Council in December 2013 to be streamlined by the end of 2014, among which: the development of an EU Cyber Defense Policy Framework; the creation by the EDA and the High Representative, and in accordance to existing NATO planning processes, of a policy framework encouraging long-term cooperation in defense planning; the launch of an EU Maritime Security Strategy; the involvement of the EDA in examining pooling and sharing scenarios concerning common defense industrial standards, procurement projects, and options for lowering the cost of military certifications, by increasing mutual recognition between Member States. Especially interesting was the emphasis on the research of dual-use technologies that provide new opportunities for countries with smaller defense sectors and for civilian small and medium enterprises (SMEs) investments in the defense sector.

The Promise of the Horizon 2020 Program

In the words of Claude-France Arnould, Chief Executive of the EDA, “We need a cutting-edge industry to support our defense, our innovation, our growth and our security of supply”[8]. Horizon 2020 – The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation[9], as the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme, may be one potential answer for more innovative and competitive defense technologies.

Claude-France Arnould, Chief Executive of the EDA (

Claude-France Arnould, Chief Executive of the EDA (

Twelve focus areas based on the Horizon 2020 societal challenges are emphasised in the first two years, among which Digital Security: Cybersecurity, Privacy and Trust, covering €47 million – the 2014 budget and €49.6 million – the 2015 budget. Digital Security in Horizon 2020 is given a wide berth, from academic and laboratory R&D, the development of the economic and societal dimension of security and privacy, secure information sharing, security of eServices, to trustworthiness in the European digital ecosystem[10].

It is expected that approximately 2.2% or €1.69 billion of the Horizon 2020 budget will be dedicated to Security research, this being an increase of approximately 20% compared to FP7.

Specifically, Horizon 2020 will fund research into activities which aim to bolster the security of current applications, services and infrastructures and especially incentivize the creation of market opportunities for the EU in the digital arena. The focus is thus on giving the EU the needed competitive edge to bridge its digital security structural innovation gap and demonstrate the market feasibility of its up-to-date security solutions.

European Defense Priorities

  • The role of the EDA as a credible facilitator and driver of pan-European defense sector reform. If the EDA remains solely an agent of the European principals without credible biding power, it will surely fail to become a strong galvanizing force and facilitator, able to address the capabilities-expectations gap the EU is currently facing. The role of EDA as a key enabler to help Member States meet their capabilities shortfalls remains under question, due to its intergovernmental institutional setup. As long as EDA is financed by Member States and not by the European Union, the common interests and issues in defense reform will not take precedence.
  • Emphasised pragmatism in defense cooperation, according to projects and groups of countries. There could be increased concern among smaller Member States that funding efforts for such projects will be directed to larger Member States with more competitive defense sectors. To appease such fears, the EDA should be more independent from Member States and avoid the risk of being used as a vehicle for certain national interests and preferences in terms of streamlining certain projects or cooperative frameworks.
  • Civilian and military relations and their differing strategic priorities in technology development. The EDA has opened the Pandora’s Box of the EU’s massive Structural Funds (SF) so as to boost the European defense industry. The “TURTLE” project, the first of seven dual-use research initiatives supported by EDA, was streamlined by Portuguese authorities and tapped around 60% financing from European Structural Funds. It aims to develop key “enabling technologies for sustainable and long term presence in the ocean”[11]. Reaping the benefits of dual-use technologies and dual-use research and production projects seems to be the way ahead. A hybrid civilian-military industrial base could be the much needed solution, but there are still risks attached to dual-use research, such as differing strategic goals for product design and profit.
  • Preserving European defense capabilities at a time of economic crisis and defense budget cuts. There is a widespread view among Member States that increased investment in defense industries might provide the required economic boost to help alleviate the economic crisis in Europe, with the EU defense sector worth €96 billion, and providing 1.5 million jobs[12].
  • Focusing on critical unmanned systems in the field of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) as well as air-to-air refueling capabilities. Prioritizing Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) by integrating them into civil European airspace has become a key matter on EDA’s agenda. As well as the development of pan-European, collective air-to-air refueling (AAR) clearance protocols, such as the Italian KC-767, to improve interoperability in multinational operations.

Instead of being utterly impressed with the “need for action” wake-up call from the Council in December 2013 and to readily applaud Member States’ pragmatic shift of interest towards collective action in the field of defense, one must remain skeptical about the future. National states in the EU will still want to make sure that the Europeanization of defense industries will not jeopardize their national sovereignty and security. Not to mention the fact that Member States have different perceptions of needs and threats, diverse opinions about international security projection and finally different interests as regards procurement and production of defense equipment. And the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower may be of interest in the current discussion: “The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without.”

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[6] European Defense Agency, European Defense Matters. A magazine of the European Defense Agency, Issue 04, 2013.

[7] C. Hill, “The Capabilities-Expectations Gap, Conceptualizing Europe’s International Role.” Journal of Common Market Studies 31, no.3 (September 1993): 316.

[8] European Defense Agency, European Defense Matters. A magazine of the European Defense Agency, Issue 03, 2013.


One comment on “European Defense at a Crossroads – The European Defense Agency (EDA) as a Credible Facilitator of Change

  1. Alexander Svitych

    “National states in the EU will still want to make sure that the Europeanization of defense industries will not jeopardize their national sovereignty and security.: – indeed, it will interesting to see if the EU will find a solution ro this dilemma under the umbrella of EDA and its strategies.

    Thanks for the great overview!

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