Up to 200 billion euros per year is spent by the countries of the European Union as a whole on defence. This is a considerable amount, representing 43% of the amount spent by the United States on this chapter. The levels of efficiency between the two sides of the Atlantic, in favour of the Americans, are not comparable, thanks above all to European duplications, which are the result of the essentially national policies carried out up to now. The dispersion that a European Defence with 29 different types of frigates, 16 of combat aircrafts and 19 of armoured vehicles, among many other systems, means is effectively a huge disadvantage compared to the American industry, which is much more simplified in its materials and armament of Land, Sea and Air.
We have to thank President Donald Trump for his clarity when he warned the Europeans not to count on the American umbrella from now on and to take responsibility for their own defense, among other things by dedicating a greater percentage of their GDP to this chapter. Thanks to this warning, Defence has ceased to be an exclusively national issue and has become a fundamental pillar of European construction. This radically transforms the mentality that has governed intra-European relations throughout its history, changes the prospects of the military industry and opens up a huge window of opportunity for small and medium-sized enterprises, which will have to compete at European level for the grants and contracts attached to a renewed Defence and Security.
All of this was made clear at the 1st Conference of the Foro Invierte, held at the European Commission’s headquarters in Madrid, which is also the prelude to the International Defence Exhibition, to be held in Toledo on 17 and 18 March. The aim was to disseminate the financing tools that the EU makes available to SMEs, in particular the European Defence Fund, created in 2017, which supports and finances both research and capacity development projects proposed for the Union’s 2021-2027 multi-annual budget.
The Strategic Compass
As the moderator of the debate table, General Felipe de la Plaza Bringas, pointed out, Spain cannot be left behind in its presence from the very beginning in the awarding and implementation of new European projects. To this end, it already provides a fixed annual contribution of 190 million euros, with the desire to increase this to 334 million. That money will have a corresponding return if Spanish SMEs “get their act together” (he said it literally), which must necessarily translate into enough dynamism to compete in all the major projects and know how to partner with their counterparts in other European countries to get the awards and develop them with the highest degree of optimization. As Francisco Fonseca, the director of the Commission’s office in Spain, also pointed out, “it is time for the SMEs, which must hurry to move from a national logic to a European one and the consequent formation of consortiums”.
In the second half of this year, Germany will take over the rotating EU presidency. It has already announced that it will launch what it calls the Strategic Compass, which will include a new list of the major military capabilities needed to build a genuine European Defence. The force is being hanged, so it will be difficult to achieve cutting-edge equipment and technologies if companies do not develop them together. The funding tools, whether it be the European Defence Fund (EDF), the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP) or the European Investment Bank (EIB), will require the highest possible levels of innovation, while also defending possible civilian applications of their research results.
Obviously, and specifically for Spain, it is important to be present from the beginning of this race and in the struggle that will undoubtedly be fought to house the headquarters of the development and execution of the projects. In this respect, Europe as a whole will also have to change its mentality. When the United States implements an innovation, it chooses the most suitable site, be it California, Florida or Arizona, with no state complaining that it was not awarded the contract. This is not yet the case in Europe, where it still matters a lot that a laboratory is based in France rather than, for example, Germany, Italy or Spain.
© This is a translation of the article originally published in Atalayar