Brussels - 20 December 2011 EDA News
The financial crisis will continue to have a significant impact on European military capabilities. This is one of the important topics which will be addressed at EDA’s annual conference on 31 January 2012.
As EDA data shows, Europe’s defence expenditure has been declining steadily since 2005. The current crisis has made matters worse. Yet Europe collectively still spends around 200bn Euros per year. The challenge is for Member States to invest in a more efficient way so that Europe can retain and sustain the effective military capabilities it needs to play its role in the world.
Given the budgetary pressures it would be all too easy to conclude that individually Member States have no option but to cut military capabilities. But difficult times call for imaginative policies and new approaches. The Pooling and Sharing concept provides Defence Ministries with an opportunity to “prosper” collectively rather than “decline” individually. It needs to be exploited to the full.
Defence Ministers have recognised that it is better to have excellent collective capabilities than unsustainable or unattainable national ones. Since the informal EU Defence Ministerial at Ghent in 2010 there has been a strong political will to pool and share capabilities more systematically. This powerful political dynamic for progress was evident in last month’s EDA Ministerial Board which saw overwhelming support for EDA's activities in support of Member States.
But the actual practice of pooling and sharing does not occur overnight. It needs hard work to get projects started. The move from a national approach to a collaborative one – such as pooling and sharing - is to a large extent about a change of culture. Member States need to consider whether they can live with giving up national control and accept a degree of interdependence. These are challenging notions, particularly in the area of defence, where sovereignty often plays an important part in national decision-making.
And there are also important practical aspects related to sharing military capabilities: a likeminded partner (or partners) needs to be identified; and that “like-mindedness” must have a very good chance of being sustained in the long term and at moments of crisis and perhaps in extremis war. That is why much of pooling and sharing in the past has been regional - linking countries with the same geopolitical outlook. Member States with strong pre-existing patterns of co-operation and a largely common outlook: Nordic Defence cooperation being an excellent example.
There is a need to prioritise the work and to focus on those projects that will have the biggest impact - which will retain or deliver key military capabilities that are otherwise at risk, or which save significant sums of money. The first targets should be those activities which will deliver the most added value. Delivering major Pooling and Sharing projects will be important but of equal if not greater long term value is the need for a more sustainable, structured approach to multinational cooperation. There is a requirement to develop new, more efficient ways of doing collaborative business if Europe wants to sustain and develop its defence capabilities in this period of financial austerity given that these financial difficulties could well last for some time.
It is for Member States to decide whether and, if so, with whom they pool and share. But EDA can help them work more effectively: amongst other things by acting as a support hub, identifying best practice and the key lessons learnt from previous programmes, including important factors such as getting the business case right and understanding the industrial perspective.
Pooling and sharing is not always straightforward. Nor is it risk-free. Ministers have seen the enormous potential to unlock significant financial and military benefits - EDA's task is to help Member States deliver them. That will require imagination, innovation, risk-taking and hard work.
Yet given the budget situation, is there an alternative? Without transformation Europe risks having hollow forces: undermining the future effectiveness of national capabilities and Member States’ ability to contribute to crisis management.
The bottom line is that Europe’s role in the world can only be sustained through better cooperation.
EDA’s Conference will be an important step in this direction.