The Making of a European Defence Union

Ever since the 1950s, the EU has tried to move towards common defense – without great success. But recent security threats within and beyond Europe make closer cooperation inevitable. So what can a European Defence Union look like? And what is its way ahead?

Overcoming Fragmentation

A400M model Farnborough Airshow 2018 – Airbus exhibit stand

The EU is facing unprecedented challenges that endanger the safety and security of its citizens: Since 2015, a series of terrorist attacks have taken place in France, Germany, Belgium, Spain and the UK. With recent missile tests by North Korea, security tensions in Asia are mounting. And the strained relationship between the EU and Russia has not yet recovered since the annexation of Crimea. Obviously, Member States cannot handle these challenges on their own – and yet the defence landscape in Europe is increasingly fragmented. For example, according to the European Commission, the EU-28 use 20 different fighter planes (6 in the US), 29 different frigates (4 in the US) and 178 different weapon systems (30 in the US) – something that does not prove to be very efficient.

But what can the EU do to promote defence cooperation and collaboration among Member States? In 2016, High Representative Mogherini presented in the Global Strategy for the EUs Foreign and Security Policy the Permanent Structured Cooperation for Member States willing to undertake higher commitments in security and defence. As part of the European Defence Action Plan by Commissioner Bienkowska, the European Defence Fund will finance defence research and support Member States in their joint development and acquisition of defence capabilities. 

Defence Graphic EU/US 2017

What Defence Cooperation can bring

The objective of these EU defence initiatives is about strengthening Europe’s strategic autonomy, a more efficient use of national defence spending and safeguarding highly skilled jobs.

  • Strategic autonomy: In order to be a reliable security provider for its citizens, Europe must be strategically autonomous from third countries in future. More investment in the research and development of European defence capabilities will ensure security of supply and allow Member States freedom of action when needed.
  • More efficient use of defence spending: The current European defence landscape is characterized by duplication and lack of interoperability. Approx. 80% of defence procurement is run on a purely national level, which costs Member States several billions of euros every year.  Coordination at EU level will ensure that Member States get better value for their money if a common set of specifications can be a greed upon.
  • Creation of jobs and growth: With 1.4 million highly-skilled employees and an annual turnover of more than EUR 100 billion, the European defence industry is a major contributor to the EUs economy. More investment in defence will therefore have a significant spill-over effect on skilled employment, research, innovation and export.

The Way Ahead

The European Defence Fund and the Permanent Structured Cooperation are important first steps towards a European Defence Union – but there are still many more things to be done. Given the long lead times in aerospace and military procurement, Airbus calls on all Member States and institutions to adopt and implement the EU defence initiatives as a matter of urgency. Only with sufficient public support at national and European level, the EU will be able to provide safety and security for its citizens in the future.



The making of a European Defence Union

Strengthening Europeans Defence Research

Nato summit

EU Defence Found

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