The European Commission has announced plans to boost spending on military research and development to €13 billion between 2021 and 2027, placing the European Union among the top four investors in defence in Europe. The new European Defence Fund (EDF) includes €4.1 billion for research and €8.9 billion for prototype development to bolster existing investment by member states.
The fund will finance projects determined to “help make the EU safer,” with particular emphasis on technologies such as encrypted software and drones, according to a Commission press release. €650 million of the funds will be focused on developing disruptive technology and innovative equipment, with the goal of making the EU a leader in defence technology.
“What we are proposing will help the EU take its destiny into its own hands. We are taking greater ownership in defending and protecting our citizens,” Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said in the release. “For the first time in the history of the European Union, a part of the European budget is devoted to investing collectively to develop new technologies and equipment to protect our people.”
Eligible projects must align with member states’ agreed priorities under the Common Security and Defence policy, as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and other regional and international organisations. Out of the EU’s 28 member states, all but six are NATO members. In order to be eligible for funding, projects must also involve at least three participating member states.
“The European Defence Fund is a game changer for defence cooperation in Europe. Based on the first initiatives tested these last two years, we are now scaling it up into an ambitious European instrument to support collaborative defence projects throughout their entire development cycle,” added Industry Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska.
Bieńkowska said the investment shows the Commission “is serious about building a Europe that defends and protects its citizens.”
Given recent security threats, including terror attacks and political tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the EU is seeking to play a bigger role in defence and military research, reports Science Magazine.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday, Federica Mogherini, the Commission’s head of foreign affairs and security policy, said: “Both Europeans and our partners in the world expect the EU to be more and more a security provider, in our region and beyond,” reports Science. “We are ready to fulfil our responsibilities,” Mogherini added.
Some have raised concerns that the defence fund could compete with Horizon Europe, the EU’s wider research funding programme. The programme is separate from EDF and is expected to receive a budget of around €94 billion from 2021-2027.
The Commission plans to allow projects with dual applications for civilians and the military, to benefit from both Horizon Europe and EDF funding, reports Science. Mathilde Reumaux, a senior policy officer at Brussels-based Science Europe, told Science that in spite of these dual-use projects, the two funding programmes must remain wholly separate. She added that Science Europe would closely watch EDF.
Despite concerns, Science Business reports that overall military research funding has been welcomed by member states. Last year, 190 research organisations and companies from over ten countries across the EU submitted responses to three competitions that the EU held as a pilot.
The Commission’s proposal must be approved by all member states in order to take effect.