The European Commission is to push ahead with plans to set up a new defence research programme to boost R&D in a field that has faced huge cuts in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Speaking to MEPs in the parliament on Tuesday, Industry Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska said there will be a proposal for a “preparatory action” on R&D in defence in next year’s budget.
In EU-speak a preparatory action means a project gets funding for up to three years, during which time a legal base needs to be set if it is to become established policy. “If we are successful, this could lead to a fully fledge defence research programme in the future, and a complete change of mindset at European level,” Bieńkowska said.
The renewed focus on defence in Brussels follows on the heels of the increased assertiveness of Russia, coupled with a realisation that defence budgets have drastically shrunk since the 2008 global financial crisis.
Member state national spending on defence research is currently less than €8 billion per year, with almost all of this carried out in France, the UK and Germany.The move into defence research is part of a broader plan to support the establishment of an industrial base that can deliver the mid- to long term strategic defence needs of Europe.
It has not been confirmed whether this defence programme will exist on its own or run under the next research and innovation programme, which will run from 2021.
Another way the EU could support the sector in the next few years would be to allow a portion of EU research spending, until now reserved for civilian purposes, to be used for military research.
The Commission may decide to do set aside more money for so-called ‘dual use’ technologies during the last few years of Horizon 2020.
Bieńkowska is advised on defence research by a group of politicians, academics and industrialists, including Airbus chief executive Tom Enders, BAE Systems chief executive Ian King and Fernando Abril-Martorell, chairman of Spain's Indra.
European spending on defence research is a fraction of US R&D investment, which is projected to reach €67 billion next year.
A recent study on the Commission’s defence plans argues that, “European defence research is coming close to an agonising point of no return” and recommends that the EU should spend between €500 and €3.3 billion per year on defence R&D.If current trends are not reversed soon, in 15 years Europe, “Will be no more than a mere customer of the US defence industry,” the report says.