MEPs urge commission to push ahead in opening up EU defence markets
14.09.2006 - 17:36 CET | By Honor Mahony
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - MEPs are urging the European Commission to press ahead with opening up the internal market in defence to save Europe wasting millions of euros a year on duplication and protectionism.
A new report commissioned by the European Parliament's security and defence subcommittee estimates that although EU governments spend half (â‚¬250bn) the amount Americans spend on defence, their defence capacities are only about 10 percent as efficient as the US.
Pointing to the duplication in member states' defence programmes, the report, published on Thursday (14 September), notes that there are 23 parallel programmes for armoured vehicles, three new parallel programmes for combat aircraft and 89 European weapons programmes. The US, by contrast, has 27 programmes.
Centre-right German MEP Karl von Wogau, head of the defence committee, said "we encourage the European Commission to go forward and say how [European treaty rules] will be applied by them in the future."
At the moment, EU law excludes internal market rules being applied to the defence sector. Its wording is open to abuse by member states who, says the report, keep unprofitable businesses "artificially alive by state subsidies."
The current commission, which has indicated it is much more willing to tackle the issue than the previous commission, is drawing up a legal interpretation of the article exempting the defence sector (No. 296) to be published later this autumn.
It is also to propose a new law on coordinating national procedures for the procurement of defence goods (arms and munitions) and services.
Europe's fragmentation in the defence market industry is well-documented but member states are notoriously reluctant to give up any powers to Brussels in this area - they only recently, and reluctantly, signed up to a non-binding code of conduct aimed at introducing more competition into defence procurement.
But although Mr Wogau concedes that the "key actors are the ministries of defence" and that the "impetus normally comes from the heads of state and government," he suggests that the commission has "two allies" working for it.
One is that European public opinion consistently shows itself to be in favour of the EU doing more on defence issues and the second is a lack of money in national defence coffers.
Governments have "empty pockets - they cannot afford to spend money in a sub-optimal way," says the MEP.
The report, by Dr Harmut Kuechle of the Bonn Center for Conversion, says MEPs should "support the commission's efforts with resolutions and initiatives" and make public when governments are not adhering to the code of conduct.
For his part, Mr Wogau also offers practical reasons for improving Europe's defence integration.
Giving an example, he says that due to chain of command duplication, French and German brigades have difficulty communicating.
"Death from friendly fire happens more easily [under these circumstances], notes the MEP.
He also says that the EU's battle groups, small battalions for fighting in trouble spots in the world - the idea was announced with great fanfare in 2003 - are also likely to have problems because of different procedures in member states.
"They really need common training before they go on a mission," says Mr Wogau.
We need to get serious on this. If the member states' governments cannot swallow their pride and promote a real common foreign & defence policy just yet, they should at least integrate in developement & procurement, if only for the sake of curbing the rediculous waste that's going on.
M: Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic
gainsaying of any statement the other person makes. (short pause)
A: No it isn't.