Defence research spending still falling short in Europe

19 Dec 2019 | News

European Defence Agency says four countries continue to fund vast majority of research in military technology

Europe is not meeting its targets on defence research and technology (R&T) spending, according to the annual Defence Data report, published by the European Defence Agency (EDA).

The report, covering all EU countries apart from Denmark - which opts out of EU defence policy - shows total defence spending in Europe is yet to return to pre-financial crisis levels, at €223.4 billion in 2018, compared to €225 billion in 2007.

And investment in new defence technologies is only slowly recovering from cuts over the last decade.

Between 2006 and 2016, defence R&T investment decreased from €3 billion to a historic low of €1.6 billion. In 2018, this investment crept back up for the second consecutive year, to €2.1 billion.

“European collaborative defence R&T still remains significantly below 2008 levels,” said Jorge Domecq, chief executive of EDA, which supports member states in the development of their defence capabilities.

EU governments have committed to spending 2 per cent of their collective defence budget on research, but in fact have never allocated more than 1.3 per cent, the report says.

Only four EU countries – not named in the report, but understood to be the UK, France, Germany and Italy – spent more than 1 per cent of their defence budgets on research in 2018. These four countries account for a full 85 per cent of total defence research investment on the continent.

“Allocating a higher share of the defence budget to defence R&T is essential to keep forces adaptive to emerging security challenges and to gain strategic technological advantages,” the report says.

EU governments have been under strong pressure in recent years from US President Donald Trump to pay more for their own defence.

In a step to become less dependent on US innovation in military technology, EU countries have committed to more Brussels-led defence projects. The bloc hopes to launch a multi-billion-euro research fund from 2021, requiring member states to work together on designing and building new tanks, ships and technology.

Even if member states do reach the 2 per cent goal for research, the US would still be spending almost three times this amount, the report says.

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