On November 14, the 27 EU Ministers of Defence approved the 2023 EU Capability Development Priorities (EDA, 2023). This constitutes the fourth revision of the Capability Development Plan (CDP). Earlier versions were drafted in 2008, 2014 and 2018 (Defence Talk, 2008; EDA, 2014, 2018). The CDP is a tool to periodically assess Member States’ military capabilities and inform them on priorities and opportunities for cooperation in capability development (EDA, n.d.).
The nexus between the concepts of European Strategic Autonomy (EU-SA) and the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB) concerns the old willingness of the European Union (EU) to thrive as a global defence actor with autonomous decision-making and freedom of action. However, to do so, it is indispensable to achieve stronger technological sovereignty through balanced cooperation between Member States (MSs). The latter lack, inter alia, a common strategic culture, that is delaying the competitiveness and readiness of the European defence industry while leaving behind crucial investments in modern defence technologies. The EU finds itself in a reality where national interests prevail in a fragmented market with abundant duplicates of capabilities and collective budgetary deficiencies. For instance, this paper shall delve into the reasons why the EU is not yet a strategic autonomous and defence technological actor after actively working on this since 2013. This shall be done through an analysis of the two concepts – EU-SA and EDTIB – and an evaluation of the status quo. The final goal of this project is to prove that the prevalence of national interests over collective technological sovereignty is clogging the implementation of a tangible military-industrial base, without which the EU cannot become a strategic autonomous player in the defence industry.
On the 23rd and 24th of June, EU leaders gathered at the European Council to discuss, among others, newly formulated membership requests from Ukraine, Moldavia and Georgia. While still considered as third countries, states that fill up a membership request or obtain candidate status (as well as non-candidate third States) cannot - and should - not be entirely ousted or dismissed of hand from various EU legal frameworks and tools related to common security and defence policy (CSDP).
The geopolitical context of the European Union (EU) has changed significantly in recent years, leading Member States to face new threats. Confronted with this situation, European leaders have agreed to work more closely together in defence and security. EU Member States are not cooperating appropriately, which has led to inefficient use of funds, wasteful duplication, and inadequate deployability of defence troops. The military industry is characterised by rising defence equipment costs as well as expensive Research and Development (R&D) costs, which limit the launch of new military programmes and have a direct impact on the EU Defence Technological and Industrial Base’s (EDTIB) competitiveness and innovation (EU Parliament and Council, 2021). The level of defence spending varies significantly amongst Member States. Increased solidarity is required to deliver joint defence capabilities, particularly through the engagement of the EU budget. The cost of non-cooperation between Member States in the field of defence and security is estimated at between €25 billion and €100 billion every year (Maelcamp, I.; Ungaro, A.R.).
For the better part of the last two years, the world has been embroiled in the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated financial drain, leading to the expectation that many Member States’ GDP will decrease, leaving fewer funds available to cover increasingly large budgetary priorities. This will necessarily lead to cuts in the spending envisaged before the pandemic hit. In that light, defence expenditure has historically been particularly vulnerable, as is readily demonstrated by the 2008 economic crisis, which saw a decrease of between 30% and 8% in Member States’ defence spending (Mölling, 2020, 2). This is a particularly troubling trend for the aspirations of technological autonomy for the EU, which requires the constant deployment of funds and does not include any immediate security threat needing containment. Particularly vulnerable is the European Defence Fund (EDF), a programme that provides funds for cooperative research and technology (R&T) projects between the industries of at least three Member States. Its initial proposal of €13 billion in 2018 has already been cut to €8 billion (Brzozowski, Euractiv, 2020) in the wake of the pandemic, which corresponds to a 38% decrease.