Press Releases A European Defence for our Geopolitical Union” : speech by President Charles Michel at the EDA annual conference

A European Defence for our Geopolitical Union” : speech by President Charles Michel at the EDA annual conference

“Europe will not be made all at once, but it will be made.”

Those famous words by Robert Schuman express what we are doing today. We are making another important part of our European Union. We are making our security and defence union.

History will judge, but I sincerely believe our defence union was born in the hours after Russian tanks rolled over the Ukrainian border. In those first hours, we took the historic decision to send weapons to Ukraine, a decision that was impossible to imagine just a few days before. And we have not looked back. Now we must build on this momentum.

So, what do we need to do, and how should we do it?
First, we must fortify our European continent. We must project strength and protection. We must beef up our European defence. A stronger and more capable European defence will contribute positively to global and transatlantic security, of which NATO remains the foundation.
I know some ideas are not consensual so far, but they will feed our democratic debate and chart the way forward. Today, I would like to share some ideas with you.
For almost 20 years, you, the EDA, have spearheaded European defence cooperation. The idea of European defence is not new. Russia’s war against Ukraine, and the increasingly unstable security environment, have injected a new urgency. So we must confront today’s changing security paradigm. With war on our doorstep, our ambition must match the urgency.
Since the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, we, the EU, have acted decisively and with unity in at least four key areas:

First, we took the unprecedented decision to deliver weapons and ammunition to Ukraine through the European Peace Facility.

Second, we endorsed our Strategic Compass in March 2022. For the first time, the EU agreed on a common threat assessment and a common course of action on defence.

Third, in Versailles, we decided to develop our strategic autonomy in three critical areas: our economic base, the energy sector and defence. In fact, we agreed to take greater responsibility for our security and to invest more and better in defence capabilities and innovative technologies.
And fourth, in March this year, we decided to boost joint procurement and ramp up production.
Under the leadership of High Representative Borrell and your leadership, Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý, the EDA has played a crucial role in coordinating these fundamental decisions. I would like to say thank you for that.
These collective decisions have launched our union into a new era of enhanced security and defence. Our European awakening is just beginning to take shape. I feel that the time has come to create a real union of defence, coupled with a true defence single market.
It should focus on two goals moving forward.
First, our ironclad military support for the people of Ukraine, because Ukraine’s security is our security, the security of all of us.
Second, we must make our European defence stronger. Now, tomorrow, and in the future.

The people of Ukraine are fighting for a free and sovereign homeland. But we know that they are also fighting for our shared values – for a peaceful, democratic and prosperous European continent.
So far, with our member states, we have provided unprecedented military assistance to Ukraine: €27 billion through our European Peace Facility and our EU military assistance mission. But we need to do more. More missiles, more ammunition, more air defence systems. And faster. This is an obligation: an obligation towards the Ukrainian people and towards our own citizens. By protecting Ukraine, we protect ourselves. Our continued strong military support also sends a signal to our partners – especially our American allies – a clear signal that we take our security more seriously than ever.
Our European Peace Facility will remain key to our military assistance. We have already topped it up twice, but with fewer stocks left to donate, it should evolve towards more acquisition and procurement, and towards more support to our European defence industry, which will increasingly be the engine of our security. I intend to put this topic on the agenda of European Council meetings to come.

We adopted our Act in Support of Ammunition Production in record time and now we are already putting it into action to ramp up production. We are working to get one million rounds of artillery ammunition to Ukraine. Yes, this is a challenge. It will take slightly more time than we hoped, but it will happen.

We have broken countless taboos since Russia invaded Ukraine. We have done what would have been unthinkable only a few weeks before: jointly procuring military equipment, using the EU budget to support the increase in our military production, and funding joint research and development in defence. All this without changing the treaties.
At the same time, member states have sharply increased their defence spending, already before the start of the war – some by more than 12% on a yearly basis.

This year alone, the total defence spending of all EU member states is roughly €270 billion. Last year, a quarter of total defence spending – nearly €60 billion – was allocated to defence investment. This means that we can invest at least €600 billion in the next 10 years. With €600 billion, we can do great things. This can and should be a watershed moment.

Our capability development priorities, set out by our member states this year, provide a clearer picture. This is a unique opportunity to break the pattern of market fragmentation: fragmentation of demand and fragmentation of supply. We must be more coherent, we must be more effective.

On the demand side, as long as EU defence companies are structured along national lines, demand will primarily come from their respective national governments. This leads to a scale of production that does not match the geopolitical reality we face.
Competition in the defence market spurs innovation, but it only works if capabilities are the driving priority. So we must encourage member states to pool their resources more for greater efficiency and interoperability.
Just one example: some European states are committed to a joint effort for a future combat air system, while others have teamed up with Japan on a global combat air programme to develop fighters by 2040. In my view, consolidated projects would be preferable in the future.
On the supply side, we are all dependent on critical raw materials and rare earths from third countries, including China. Graphite, for instance, is the most-used material in the defence industry – for helicopters, submarines, artillery and missiles – and China produces 70% of the world’s graphite. Only coordinated European action will ensure that we have access to critical raw materials to increase domestic military production – much like our Chips Act, which strives to strengthen the EU chips value chain.
We must work towards a true defence single market. I would like to propose four concrete ideas:

First, we need to make the coordination of our defence spending more effective. The role of the European Defence Agency has significantly expanded in recent years. The EDA should become a powerful European defence department, run by the High Representative under the core guidance of the European Council. It would be a driving force to bundle military expertise and instruments, and we need to provide you with the resources that will be needed to coordinate and lead on joint procurement and its financing, in close connection with the member states.
Of the 68 PESCO projects the EU has set up to date, 10 are coordinated by the EDA. This number has to go up.

Second, we must adapt our regulatory framework so we can act faster and with more flexibility. Buying tanks or air defence systems is not the same as buying paper and printers. Public procurement and joint purchasing need to be more adapted to the specifics and geopolitics of the defence sector.

Third, we must ramp up financing in our defence industry. Increasing the predictability of public orders will help our industry access private financing and it will send a very clear message: produce and we will buy. We will ensure long-term contracts because our security and stability will require long-term investment. We must also support our SMEs, especially those innovating for our defence industry. I commend the EIB decision to invest €8 billion in security until 2027, because financing European defence is in our common interest, it involves both public and private money.
We should also consider the idea of European defence bonds to strengthen our technological and industrial base. These EU bonds could emerge as a new asset class, including for retail investors.

And fourth, we need to focus on concrete projects that have a structural European impact and that provide safety for our citizens. We already have strategies for space and for maritime domains, but we can go further in the air domain. For instance, the EU could develop next-generation and fully interoperable capabilities in future combat systems. Recent initiatives, such as the Future Air Combat System project and the European Sky Shield initiative, are proof that our member states are more ready to cooperate.

Now is the time to think big. The cyber domain offers vast potential for the future. Cyber defence is still in its infancy. That is why it can offer the greatest opportunity for developing common cyber capacities. I propose a European cyber force that would be a fundamental component of our European defence. It would help us to take a position of leadership in cyber responsive operations and information superiority, and I believe it should be equipped with offensive capabilities. The sensitive issue of chain of command would need to be addressed. If we are serious about enhancing our security, this is the domain where we can make a quantum leap.

Finally, I am currently consulting with EU leaders on our strategic agenda for the coming years. I had meetings over the last few days in various capitals. Let me assure you, Europe’s security and defence is a key part of these discussions, because all 27 leaders want to make it clear to their citizens that we will be there for them to ensure their safety and their security in this unpredictable world.

We need a true European defence for more security. We need a true European defence for our ambitious geopolitical union. We must build a virtuous triangle of common threat assessment, common strategic goals, and enhanced operational capabilities.

Thank you once again for everything you do at the European Defence Agency. You can count on me and on the European Council to make Europe defence-ready, more sovereign and better prepared to protect our European values and freedoms.
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