European Defence Agency (EDA)

The genesis of the European Defence Agency lies with the Independent European Programme Group (IEPG), established in 1976, as a forum within which European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) discussed and coordinated their research and development programmes and equipment requirements in the defence field. Such coordination was intended to act as a counterpoise to the overwhelming dominance of the United States in this area and was later carried out within the Western European Armaments Group (WEAG), an ancillary body of the Western European Union (WEU). The purpose of WEAG was to monitor technical developments relevant to the supply of military goods, to promote the standardization of weapons and equipment, and to encourage more cooperation among European manufacturers, whilst simultaneously introducing greater competition into the defence procurement market (where Article 346(1)b TFEU effectively exempts member states’ defence industries from the normal disciplines of EU public procurement policy and competition policy more generally).

The end of the Cold War made it more urgent that the restructuring and rationalization of European defence sector be accelerated. The demand for weaponry in Europe declined, whilst there was much fiercer competition with American suppliers in export markets, a development which the (often state-owned) European defence manufacturers were ill equipped to meet. A debate emerged about the possible creation of a European armaments agency, with a declaration (on the WEU) annexed to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty identifying this as a ‘proposal [to] be examined further’. A Franco-German summit in May 1994 called for the idea to be taken up, and in November 1996, WEU ministers established a Western European Armaments Organisation (WEAO) which might serve as the prototype for such an agency. The 1997 Amsterdam Treaty stated that ‘the progressive framing of a common defence policy’ foreseen in the Maastricht Treaty ‘will be supported, as Member States consider appropriate, by cooperation between them in the field of armaments’.

During the Convention on the Future of Europe in 2002-03, it was agreed to include in the proposed European Constitution a provision to establish a new European defence agency (Article I-41(3) Constitution), with a remit that encompassed both the original role planned for an armaments agency and the broader issue of how to enhance the capabilities of, and synergies between, national defence forces. In the event, however, the member states did not wait for the ratification of the Constitution (itself aborted in 2005) to take the project forward. Instead, EU heads of government, at the Thessaloniki meeting of the European Council in June 2003, committed themselves to create ‘an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments’ over the next 18 months. The resulting European Defence Agency was established in July 2004 – under a joint action of the Council of Ministers in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) – ‘to support the Member States and the Council in their effort to improve European defence capabilities in the field of crisis management’ and to sustain the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) ‘as it stands now and develops in the future’. Denmark invoked its opt-out from ‘decisions and actions of the Union which have defence implications’. It or any other member state outside the agency may join at any time, just as any member state may withdraw at any time. The Lisbon Treaty finally gave treaty status to the agency (under Article 42(3) TEU), drawing on the wording originally proposed in the European Constitution. The tasks assigned to it include participation in ‘defining a European capabilities and armaments policy’, assistance to the Council in ‘evaluating the improvement of military capabilities’, and helping to identify and implement ‘any measure needed to strengthen the industrial and technological base of the defence sector’.

The Union’s High Representative for CFSP serves as the ‘Head of the Agency’ and chairs its steering board. The latter comprises the defence ministers of the (currently) 26 participating member states, plus a representative of the European Commission, and meets at least twice a year. The steering board also meets at official level, where it is composed of the national military representatives (MilReps) to the EU Military Committee (EUMC). There are also regular meetings of national directors for armaments, capabilities and research. The EDA’s senior staff, headed by a chief executive, constitute its management board. The agency is funded by financial contributions from the participating member states: in 2011, it had a budget of € 30 million and employed just over 100 staff.

Since 2004, the EDA has pioneered over 40 collaborative projects in the research and technology field. In November 2005, it adopted a code of conduct for defence procurement, which means that the 26 countries now publish most of their defence contracts on the agency’s website, even though they are under no legal obligation to do so. In 2011, the EDA’s ‘Capabilities Development Plan’ set out pathways for collaborate work in 17 areas of potential cooperation, from airlift management to cyber defence.

In the longer term, the agency’s biggest challenge is to identify a way to overcome the overwhelmingly national focus in defence planning and purchasing, even within a NATO context, let alone an EU one. The result is that, as Sven Biscop has noted, ‘of over two million men and women in uniform in the EU 27, only a meager 10 to 15 per cent are estimated to be deployable’ (Egmont Paper 20, 2009). The reasons Biscop adduces for this include the ‘low cost-effectiveness of a plethora of small-scale capabilities’ in individual member states, including unnecessary duplication, as well as over-reliance of ‘quasi non-deployable conscripts’, operational gaps in terms of strategic transport and communications, and a generally sluggish attitude towards moving from traditional territorial defence to expeditionary warfare.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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