Annual Conference discusses “Sustaining European Defence”

The European Defence Agency’s Annual Conference 2020 entitled ‘Sustaining European Defence’ was opened this morning by EDA Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý. As exceptional circumstances (Covid pandemic) require exceptional measures, this year’s conference is held in online format with a very broad audience representing the whole European defence spectrum (governments, armed forces, industry, EU institutions, NATO, think tanks and media) connected remotely to listen to speeches and panel discussions and also actively take part in debates through interactive Q&A sessions. 

The conference is split in two parts: while the first one, held this morning, primarily dealt with operational and industrial aspects, the second part tomorrow (4 December) will focus on political and strategic questions. Among the speakers will be, inter alia, the Head of the Agency, High Representative Josep Borrell, NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană and European Commissioner Thierry Breton.

“We need more cooperation in defence”

In his welcome, EDA Chief Jiří Šedivý said the conference, at the end of a particularly challenging year, was coming at the “right moment” as the Covid-19 crisis had not only revealed risks and vulnerabilities but also the clear necessity to further enhance security and defence cooperation to make Europe stronger in the future. Since the required cooperation tools are already all in place (CARD, PESCO and the precursor programmes of the European Defence Fund), they should now be used to the fullest extent, Mr Šedivý stressed. The message of the first CARD report presented by EDA to Defence Ministers two weeks ago could not have been clearer: “We need more cooperation in defence. And we need the political will and the urgency” to turn Europe into a more credible and more autonomous security provider, as pledged in the EU Global Strategy in 2016. So far, most Member States have not yet made full use of the common instruments which explains why the European capability landscape continues to suffer from fragmentation, duplication and insufficient operational engagement. These findings, clearly confirmed by the CARD findings, “are not new. What is new is the method how we retrieved them. Today we have clear evidence. And we should use it to change our approach towards European defence”, Mr Šedivý urged.

German EU Presidency

In his Presidency speech, German Defence State Secretary Benedikt Zimmer recalled the main defence-related objective of the ongoing German EU Presidency: “Strengthening the EU in the area of security and defence”. In the current Coivid-19 crisis, “we need, more than ever, stand together in the EU, unified by a clear vision regarding our values, interests and ambitions. Our citizens expect a strong EU. An EU that protects and defends them in the face of any current and future crisis”, he said. Despite some progress in deepening the EU´s CSDP over the past years, “the ongoing crisis has revealed not only strengths but also weaknesses in our system”. Hence the need for Europe to focus on two core issues. “First, the EU needs the capacity to provide support and assist in the direct and immediate management of the crisis. Second, in the long run, we have to be able to act in order to position ourselves in a post-COVID-19 order, especially in the domain of security and defence”, in close cooperation with NATO “which remains the cornerstone of collective defence in Europe”, Mr Zimmer said. Member States need to be clear about their intentions and objectives; hence the importance of the ongoing work on the EU’s Strategic Compass which “will help us to plan better and to act more decisively in the future, if and when European action is required. This will also provide more transparency for our partners”. As regards the more urgent challenge to respond to the current Covid crisis, Mr Zimmer expressed the hope that the ongoing PESCO project European Medical Command (EMC) will lead to “higher resilience and closer cooperation among the Armed Forces of the EU Member States”. The EMC will also be closely linked with NATO’s Multinational Medical Coordination Centre (MMCC) and thus creates vivid and much-needed close cooperation between NATO and the EU, he insisted. “The current COVID-19 pandemic may only be one of several crises throughout the 21st century, but it emphasizes the necessity to develop a EU that is more resilient and able to act towards a variety of different challenges. This will require more cooperation and coordination between all EU Member States. Important is also close coordination between the EU and its partners, especially the cooperation with NATO”, Mr Zimmer concluded. 

Military viewpoint

Presenting the operational military viewpoint, the Chairman of the EU Military Committee (EUMC), General Claudio Graziano, stressed the importance of having the end-user’s view, the one of the Armed Forces operating on the ground, well integrated into the EU’s overall efforts to move towards a more homogeneous and interoperable defence landscape. “We all know that the end-user, by definition, is the ultimate consumer of a final product, which in case of the military domain, can be a weapon, a system, or even a policy. But the role of the end user goes further than this. Military inputs and expertise coming from the field represent an essential factor for the best definition of the product itself, optimizing the outcome of the whole manufacture chain. In other words, it should be the militaries to drive the changes, asking for the capabilities they need to accomplish their tasks, which, in the case of the EU, means to fulfil the Level of Ambition defined at political level, being able to defend Europe interests and citizens”, he said. All recently launched EU Defence initiatives (CARD, PESCO, EDF) go into the right direction, also because they have integrated the end-user perspective, General Graziano stressed: “All these efforts will have to monitor closely the geopolitical trends as well as the new threats, compelling us to continuously improve our military tools, if we are to succeed against our adversaries, in whatever nature they will challenge us: traditional, hybrid, cyber or – probably – a combination of all these dimensions”

Panel discussions

The first half day of the Conference was also marked by two lively and interesting panel discussions:

  • The first one, moderated by Dr Daniela Schwarzer (Director at the German Council on Foreign Relations) focused on ‘Delivering on military effectiveness: from priorities to implementation’ and featured the following panelists: Jukka Juusti (Permanent Secretary, at the Finnish Ministry of Defence),  Admiral Michel Hofman (Chief of Defence of Belgium) and Vice-Admiral Hervé Bléjean (Director General of the EU Military Staff):
  • The second one, moderated by EDA’s Pieter Taal (Head of Unit Industry Strategy and EU Policies) dealt with the  impact of COVID-19 on defence and the question: ‘How does the EU defence industry adapt to a new normal?’ This panel was composed by Dr Lucie Béraud-Sudreau (Director of the Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, SIPRI), Lauri Almann (Co-Founder, Member of the Executive Board, CybExer Technologies) and Giovanni Soccodato, (Chief Strategic Equity Officer, Leonardo).
EDA Defence Innovation Prize

Today’s session also saw EDA’s Deputy Chief Executive Olli Ruutu hand over this year’s EDA Defence Innovation Prize to the owners of the two winning projects: the Centro Italiano Ricerche Aerospaziali (CIRA) one the one hand, and Rantelon and Tampere University, on the other hand. More details on the Innovation Prize ceremony are available in this specific webnews.

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