The strategic autonomy of Europe in defense constitutes an aspiration of the European Union. The growing European mistrust of its theoretical ally accelerates plans to untie itself from Washington.
The European Commission is presenting this week three instruments that aim to improve the military muscle of the EU outside of NATO.
The main one is a fund of 13 billion euros to develop equipment that excludes foreign companies in order to strengthen the European industry. The EU will thus be placed among the top four investors in the continent in defense technology.
Military cooperation is increasingly on the European agenda. Overcoming the historical reluctance – almost nobody dared to support military investment in a club that was born as a guarantee of peace in the continent, Brussels takes advantage of the convulsed external situation to shore up the common defense.
“Europe faces new threats that know no borders and no European country can face them separately. In a changing international environment, Europe needs to reinforce its strategic autonomy, “defends the EU Executive in a draft statement.
The defense of the EU bloc depends at this moment on the United States, which provides assistance and sells equipment to its European allies. But under the new measure, the EU plans to ignore American military technology enterprises.
Because although Trump has not tired of repeating that the EU has to spend more in the military and in its own defense, his message assumed that this money would end up in the hands of US companies, leaders in these projects.This is just the opposite of what is sought by the tools that Brussels has devised, although it remains to be seen that they do it.
The EU Executive will present on Wednesday the new European Defense Fund, endowed with 13 billion euros “to defend and protect Europeans,” according to the consulted document.
This item, which is scheduled for the budget period 2021-2027, aims to boost investment in military equipment, with clear rules to avoid ending financing companies controlled by third countries, including the United States.
Even so, Brussels opens the possibility to some exemptions from the rule. It will be possible to finance European subsidiaries of companies based abroad provided there are no transfers of classified information; something fundamental in a strategic area such as defense.
The EU executive has included this provision at the insistence of the Council of the Union, which represents the Member States.
Europe already launched last year a first version of that fund. But the amount enabled for the next budgets far exceeds the 600 million euros set between 2018 and 2020 in the pilot project.
The 13 billion programmed for the next European budgets will be divided into two sections: 4,1 billion for military research projects and 8,9 billion to develop defense capabilities such as tanks, drones, cybersecurity programs and others, in projects involving at least three Member States. The objective is to encourage cooperation.
The conditions imposed by Brussels are demanding. Only initiatives that comply with EU priorities will be financed, with the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises. The Commission will contribute 20% of the development and the rest will be paid by the States interested in starting up these equipment
Community co-financing can go up to 30% of the cost of the project if the initiative belongs to the hard core of the defense that made 25 member states last year to further advance their military integration. “About 5% of the funds will be allocated to innovation, to disruptive technologies,” says the document. That is, to technologies that radically change the market, such as drones or information encryption.
The experts show caution regarding the future of European defense policy, one of the few that gives rise to majority agreements. “I do not know if we already have consensus, but Angela Merkel has taken a step forward in her response to Emmanuel Macron and the fact that the Trump Administration does not protect, but rather destabilizes and humiliates the EU, works as a glue,” reflects Sébastien Maillard of the Delors Institute.
Maillard refers to the support given by the German chancellor to the rapid intervention force for crisis situations proposed by the French president.
If Europeans refuse to pay their fair share as NATO members and instead decide it is in their interest to create their own military equipment, independent from American companies, maybe it is time for the US to de-escalate its presence in Europe, especially around Russian borders. If European leaders want to detach themselves from American military support, both financial and technological, perhaps it is time for the US to start thinking about withdrawing its troops from Europe.