European defence industry: Time for a leap forward


By Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission and Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market in charge of European Defence Industry

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine puts EU’s security at risk. With war on our doorstep, the United States profoundly divided over its continued support to Ukraine, and dangerous tensions increasing in the Middle East and many other regions, it is time for Europe to take its security into its own hands to protect its citizens and deter its adversaries.

We have already begun to reverse the “peace dividend” policy – the approach of reducing defence spending and the related industrial production – that has long prevailed after the end of the Cold War. Since 2022, this change of mind-set has been materialised with the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, the entry of Denmark into European defence cooperation, and EU Member States’ decisions to invest massively in defence and support Ukraine militarily with €28 billion since the start of the war and a further €21 billion announced for 2024. The EU is using instruments like the European Peace Facility in an innovative way to finance the transfer of arms to Ukraine and we have just agreed to add €5 billion to this Facility. We have also mobilised the EU budget in unprecedented ways to support joint procurement and investment in ammunition production.

But we need to do much more, moving from an emergency mode to a structural, long-term approach. We must produce and invest more in defence, faster and together as Europeans. Building a credible Defence Union will be a major European project for the next decade.

We are not talking about creating a European army. What we need – and what we want to achieve in coming years – is a closer cooperation between our national armies and a stronger defence industry in Europe. It will help also build an effective European pillar in NATO. We must build a Europe of defence that allows us to act together with our allies when possible, but also independently when necessary.

In the current geopolitical context, we have no other choice: we need to become “defence ready”. Not because the EU should wage war but, on the contrary, to deter our potential aggressors with the certainty that our industry will be ready to sustain efforts in the long run. That is the sense of the European Defence industrial Strategy we presented on 5 March and which will be discussed by EU heads of State and government later this week.

Becoming “defence ready”

The availability – on time and in volume – of defence equipment has become a critical security issue. Over the last two years, 78% of defence equipment acquired by EU Member States was sourced outside of the EU. As in so many other areas (raw materials, clean tech), in a world of increasing geopolitical tensions we must reduce Europe’s excessive dependencies. We should not take for granted that defence producers abroad will always be eager to sell us equipment at the time, price and pace we need.

We need to increase Europe’s industrial production capacities, replenish our Member States’ stocks, structure European resilient defence industrial ecosystems and secure their supply chains everywhere in Europe.

We already did it for ammunition: the European production system can today produce more than a million artillery ammunitions per year and with the support of the new Act in Support of Ammunition Production (ASAP), we will reach a production capacity of 2 million in 2025.

However, we must also cover the broader defence capability landscape. We need to invest into European cyber and anti-aircraft defence capabilities, to monitor threats from space, better protect our maritime areas – the domains that none of our Member States can manage to secure on its own. But all of this presupposes the availability of European defence equipment.

Urgency and Focus

Europe needs a defence industry policy underpinning its security strategy for now and the future – without having to hold our breath every four years awaiting the results of elections among our allies. With urgency and focus. Beyond slogans and short-term actions, we need to substantially increase our collective investment for the long term. Without taboos.

Therefore, we need to improve our European defence industry’s access to finance from private and public sources. The European Investment Bank (EIB) can be a key driver in this regard, if it adapts its lending policies accordingly.

Secondly, we need a comprehensive collective investment plan. We were able to react quickly and decisively as Europeans to the existential COVID crisis by jointly mobilising €750 billion for Europe’s recovery and resilience. At a time when our very security is at threat, we need a long-term, predictable and credible financing plan for investing in our defence capabilities and our defence industry – including, if necessary, common borrowing as proposed by several heads of State and government.

One thing is for sure. As with all other major challenges – climate change, pandemics, migration, energy… – relying on national solutions alone cannot be sufficient. It is time to think, invest and act as Europeans. We are confident that the EU Member States will show the political will and agree to provide the necessary resources to make the bold leap forward needed to take control of our own destiny in defence industry matters.

Author profile
Josep Borrell Fontelles

Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission

Explore more