Members of the European Parliament approved a proposal to fund research into defence technology from 2017, backing the Preparatory Action for Defence Research programme, which will spend around €25 million per year until 2020.
Spending proposals so far include financing drone, cyber defence and maritime surveillance research.
Other possibilities being aired include loosening restrictions on the European Investment Bank, so it can fund defence research projects, and joint procurement, which would see countries team up to purchase expensive equipment such as helicopters and drones.
The preparatory action could eventually grow into a permanent programme worth €3.5 billion, run separately from the EU’s traditional research programme, Horizon 2020.
The pilot, the first exclusively focussed on defence research, marks a major shift towards allowing European defence companies access to an EU budget.
lt is already controversial. A petition against it has gathered more than 60,000 signatures.
Europe lags behind other major powers on defence investment. EU 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.
This is a fraction of the US R&D investment, which is projected to reach €67 billion next year.