The New Normal

In its New Year forecast for 2015, The Economist said “optimism is in short supply”. It was hard to disagree then, and it still is. It’s been rather depressing to read through last year’s recaps, and to see how the EU is gradually disintegrating. Terrorism experts believe that Europe faces a “new normal” of more threats and disruption as security fears remain high. The attacks showed also, that countries don’t share enough information and that a successful collaboration towards a mutual defence is a necessity.

The EU Member States are still lacking critical capabilities to ensure they retain their ability to act as security providers. Recent debates on the EU’s security and defence capabilities warn against cuts in national defence budgets, and call for pooling & sharing strategies for enhances defence cooperation at the EU level. While the majority of European defence collaboration projects are managed by the member states, the European Defence Agency (EDA) supports almost 60 projects related to pooling and sharing. However, many of these projects are comparatively small and often deal with technical, regulatory or industrial market issues rather than large-scale programmes which directly enhance military capabilities.

After the row of terrorist attacks, EU member states granted France the first activation of the EU’s mutual defence clause to help in operations against militant islamic groups in Africa. In a rather surprising move, the President Hollande told lawmakers that France will invoke article 42.7 of the EU Treaty during a meeting of EU defence ministers on November 17th. The article “provides that when a state is attacked, all member states must bring their solidarity to address the aggression”. The idea of European defence collaboration dates back to the very beginning of integration efforts in Europe at the start of the Cold War. In October 1950 the French Prime Minister René Pleven called for a European Defence Community (EDC) and the creation of a European army under supranational authority and funded by a common European budget. In December 2013, the European Council held a debate on defence for the first time since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, signed by the EU member states in 2007. In the debate’s conclusions, the European Council identified priorities for stronger cooperation. EU rapid response capabilities are to be improved, the development of military capabilities needs to be enhanced, and Europe’s defence industry bolstered.

As more than one million refugees clamor to get into Europe, mounting anxiety over Europe’s Europe has generated some lucrative opportunities. The European defence industry has suffered from budgets cuts and competition over the last years. Past surveys report a rather pessimistic view on the development of the defence sector. From 2005 to 2014, defense budgets fell by 8.3 % in real terms, according to SIPRI’s analysis. In the recent  A&D Management Issues Radar 2015 reports Roland Berger, that 67% of the survey A&D managers, expect the end of the cost-cutting policy for the defence sector. Reasons are the current geopolitical situation and situational risk awareness in European countries. The chief beneficiary seems to be Europe’s defense industry.
Over the last 6 years, the Defence Collaboration & Logistics Conference has been focusing on public-private co-operation in defense logistics. A lot has changed in Europe since 2010, and at the same time it hasn’t. Progress on European defence collaboration has been made, but much more needs to be done. EU officials like the cliche that “every crisis is an opportunity”. There certainly is a new optimism amongst the leaders of the aerospace and defence sector. For European defence collaboration to truly succeed, all EU member states will be required to step up to the mark. The next 12 months will show who’s guilty of exaggeration.

Heidi Scheiffele, Editorial Director, Copperberg