European Defence Agency, July 2004

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Series Details 26.7.04
Publication Date 26/07/2004
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On 14 June EU Foreign Ministers agreed to create a European Defence Agency. The new body should be operational by the end of the year. Its responsibilities will include developing the Union's defence capabilities in relation to crisis management, and promoting cooperation on research and procurement. A Joint Action establishing the Agency was published on 17 July.


In June 2003, the Thessaloniki European Council instructed the Council of the European Union to make preparations for the creation of an 'agency in the field of defence capabilities' (see In Focus: European Council, Thessaloniki, 19-20 June 2003).

Despite the inevitable disagreements between Member States, the Union has moved quickly to create the new body. Foreign Ministers agreed on 14 June, at the External Relations Council, to adopt a Joint Action on the establishment of the European Defence Agency.

The Agency's mission 'is to support the Council and the Member States in their effort to improve the EU's defence capabilities in the field of crisis management and to sustain the ESDP as it stands now and develops in the future'. Member States will, however, retain their competence in defence matters. All EU Member States bound by the Joint Action can be involved in the work of the Agency, although participation is not compulsory (Denmark will not take part: the Treaty on European Union included a Protocol exempting Denmark from involvement in defence matters, so it is not bound by the Joint Action).

'The establishment of the Agency should contribute to the implementation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), in particular the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).' The Agency is expected to develop close working relations with existing 'arrangements, groupings and organisations', including the Organisation Conjoint de Cooperation en matière d'Armement (OCCAR), Western European Armaments Group (WEAG) and Western European Armaments Organisation (WEAO).

Article 5 of the Joint Action sets out the Agency's functions and tasks. Four main fields of activity are identified:

  • Development of defence capabilities in the field of crisis management. The Agency is expected to identify the Union's future defence capability requirements for both forces and equipment and to coordinate the implementation of the European Capabilities Action Plan. It will also be responsible for 'promoting and coordinating harmonisation of military requirements; identifying and proposing collaborative activities in the operational domain'; and 'providing appraisals on financial priorities for capabilities development and acquisition'.
  • Promotion and enhancement of European armaments cooperation. Activities identified in this area include 'promoting and proposing new multilateral cooperative projects to meet ESDP capabilities requirements'; coordinating 'existing programmes implemented by Member States'; and 'promoting cost-effective and efficient procurement by identifying and disseminating best practices'.
  • Working to strengthen the DTIB and for the creation of an internationally competitive European Defence Equipment Market. The Agency will be responsible for 'developing relevant policies and strategies, in consultation with the Commission and industry as appropriate' and for 'pursuing EU-wide development and harmonisation of relevant rules and regulations'.
  • Enhancement of the effectiveness of European Defence Research and Technology. Here the Agency will be expected to promote research 'aimed at fulfilling future defence and security capability requirements and thereby strengthening Europe's industrial and technological potential in this domain'. It will also be involved in 'promoting more effectively targeted joint defence R & T'; 'coordinating and planning joint research activities'; managing defence research and technology contracts; and liaising with the European Commission to 'maximise complementarity and synergy between defence and civil or security related research programmes.'

The Agency will operate under the aegis of the Council. In May and November of each year, it will provide the Council with an annual report on its activities during the previous and current 12 months. The November report will also provide information on the Agency's draft work programme and budgets for the following year. Located in Brussels, the Agency will have a mix of staff: some on fixed-term contracts, and others - national experts and EU officials - on secondment.

The Agency's initial financial framework will span 2006 to 2008. The Financial Times reported that the budget for 2004 'will be only 2m ($2.4m, �1.3m), rising to 25m by 2005, including 10m for set-up costs' (see: EU defence agency approved).

Although agreement was reached, the Agency 'has been subject to different interpretations by the EU's two biggest military powers' said the Financial Times. 'The UK emphasises the needs to improve capabilities through steps such as greater inter-operability of equipment. France has also stressed the need to develop Europe's defence industry' (see: European Defence Agency). France reportedly wants greater investment in research, with the aim of enhancing Europe's defence manufacturing capability. The UK, on the other hand, apparently favours leasing equipment, an approach which it argues will ensure availability (see Financial Times: UK and France disagree on role of arms agency).

(At one point the deal seemed to be under threat from a dispute between France and the UK over voting rights on the Agency's board - see European Voice: UK, Germany and France battle over defence agency).

Efforts to promote EU-wide purchasing of defence equipment have largely failed, and most is still purchased by individual Member States (see Financial Times: EU defence agency approved).

On 15 June, executives of the defence companies Thales, EADS and BAE Systems published an open letter, calling on Member States to 'beef up their spending on defence research, technology and acquisition, to turn their political commitment on new defence capabilities into concrete realities, and to make better use of limited budgets through the launching of a European Defence Agency' (see: The new European Defence Agency - getting above the clouds).

The letter warned that, 'faced with many institutional and practical challenges, there is a serious risk that the Agency will fall short of the ambitions and expectations set for it. Slowness in the next stage of build-up, complexity of decision-making processes, and a lack of resources, notably for Research & Technology investment, would inhibit its full development. There is a danger that it may not achieve in a reasonable timeframe its goals in relation to an effective European defence equipment market and competitive technological and industrial base.'

Further information within European Sources Online

European Sources Online: Topic Guides

The European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy
Defence in Europe

European Sources Online: In Focus

26.04.04: Europe discusses the need for a strategy for security research, April 2004
23.06.03: European Council, Thessaloniki, 19-20 June 2003
28.05.03: Defence procurement: Seven European countries sign contract for the A400M military transport aircraft, May 2003
13.03.03: Europe's defence equipment industry, March 2003

European Sources Online: Financial Times

13.07.04: European Defence Agency
15.06.04: EU defence agency approved
18.05.04: UK and France disagree on role of arms agency

European Sources Online: European Voice

27.05.04: UK, Germany and France battle over defence agency

Further information can be seen in these external links:
(long-term access cannot be guaranteed)

EU Institutions

Council Joint Action 2004/551/CFSP of 12 July 2004 on the establishment of the European Defence Agency

Council of the European Union

14.06.04: European Capabilities Action Plan

Other organisations

Forum Europe

28.04.04: Hopes and Ambitions of the European Defence Agency
19.01.04: Monthly Roundtable Report

Thales Group

24.06.04: The new European Defence Agency - getting above the clouds

Eric Davies
Compiled: 26 July 2004

Background and reporting on the week's main stories in the European Union and the wider Europe.

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