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The New European Defence Industrial Strategy: Can the EU walk the talk?

Written by: Kristina Velimirovic

Edited by: Manfred Sintorn

Supervised by: Syuzanna Kirakosyan

On March 5, 2024, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the first European Defence Industrial Strategy (EDIS, hereafter ‘the Strategy’) that she had announced in the 2023 State of the Union speech (European Commission, 2023; 2024b). The Strategy is an important milestone in the EU’s efforts to establish itself as a prominent security and defence actor. It sets out an ambitious plan to scale up the EU’s defence industry to improve the Union’s overall defence capability. EDIS signals the European Commission’s determination to assume a more prominent role in defence amid efforts for a greater European component in defence to navigate increasingly volatile world politics and the return of conventional warfare to European soil.

Nevertheless, EDIS bears unresolved issues, most notably pertaining to the Strategy’s budget. It remains undecided and unclear where the financing necessary to pursue and implement the Strategy’s objectives will come from. The main obstacles here are a lack of political unity and differing member state priorities, as well as a lack of trust between the defence industries and governments. This paper examines the EDIS and assesses the EU’s ability to implement the Strategy’s objectives and address emerging challenges while accounting for differing member state perspectives. For the EU to “walk the talk” and live up to its commitments, there is a need for long-term financial incentives at the EU level and strong support from the Capitals to compensate for a previous deficit in defence spending in the past and make the Union a capable actor in security and defence.