MEPs discussed the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the European defence industry with the Commissioner for Internal Market, on Thursday.
The era of naive Europe is over, said Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton, during a discussion on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the European defence industry with MEPs in the Subcommittee on Security and Defence. He listed a number of issues that Europe needs to tackle, such as developing defence technology, countering hybrid threats and achieving digital sovereignty.
Importance of strategic autonomy
The European Defence Fund is here to contribute to defending Europe’s citizens and promoting defence cooperation among companies and between EU countries. Out of sixteen projects that will receive funding of 200 million euros under its preparatory phase (EDIDP), nine will be developed in the framework of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), said Commissioner Breton.
He stressed that there are 220 EU companies involved in defence projects, with 40 % of them being small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that work together with larger industrial consortia. They work on a range of products from drones for data aggregation to GPS receivers, optical sensors and big data solutions for satellite programmes.
This fund is not protectionist, he pointed out, replying to questions from some MEPs about the relationship with Europe’s defence partners, such as the US. He said that as the behaviour of major international partners is unpredictable, Europe has to take responsibility and defend its own interests. In doing so, the EU has to use its main asset, which is its single market, said the Commissioner.
Chair of the Committee on Security and Defence Nathalie Loiseau (Renew, FR) said: “The COVID-19 crisis has raised European awareness about the risks related to our dependence on third countries and the importance of strategic autonomy. It has also shown that we are the target of hybrid threats, ranging from cyberattacks to disinformation campaigns.”
New types of threats to democratic societies where digital platforms are being used to destabilise Europe will be looked at in the coming months, said the Commissioner and added that he would like to present a new plan for fighting this threat by the end of the year.
Protecting strategic economic actors
Commissioner Breton also pointed to the importance of the InvestEU programme, which is key to protect strategic economic actors in Europe. They may be threatened by non-EU players who might use the crisis to try to buy these companies, he said, adding that Europe needs to secure a level playing field.
Some MEPs expressed concern that a new Defence Fund might only benefit richer member states, leaving the poorer ones to merely take up the role of a buyer. They also asked how ambitions on strategic autonomy can be fulfilled when defence funds are being cut, and wanted to know if the Parliament will be involved in decisions on defence projects.
You can watch the video recording of the meeting here