After decades of keeping a low profile in the military arena, the European Union is flexing its muscles. On Wednesday, the European Commission proposed a new, €13 billion fund for military R&D. Its main beneficiaries are expected to be major European companies, such as Airbus, Leonardo, and the Thales Group, but universities and research institutes will be able to apply as well.
All but six of the European Union’s 28 members states are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has guaranteed their security for decades. But in a climate of rising international tensions—including Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and a series of terrorist attacks—the European Union is keen on taking on a more important role, especially in defense R&D. “Both Europeans and our partners in the world expect the EU to be more and more a security provider, in our region and beyond,” Federica Mogherini, the commission’s foreign affairs and security policy chief, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. “We are ready to fulfill our responsibilities.” To achieve this, cooperation “must become the norm, not the exception anymore,” added industry commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska.
At the moment, most defense research in the European Union is funded at the national level or through specific agreements between governments. To illustrate what it calls “fragmentation and inefficiencies,” the commission says 178 different weapon systems and 17 types of main battle tanks are in use across the European Union, compared with 30 and one, respectively, in the United States.