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EU defence production strategy ‘on track’, Breton says

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The European Commission said on Tuesday (10 October) it was ‘on track’ to lay out its defence strategy next month, a long-term approach to boosting defence investment and production after the urgency created by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“We are working on a comprehensive European Defence industrial strategy and as part of it, I believe we must present an ambitious European Defence Investment Programme (EDIP),” Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said on Tuesday (10 October), speaking at the annual Business Bridge Europe’s defence conference in Brussels.

The European Commission is scheduled to deliver its European Defence Strategy on 8 November.

The announcement came as a relief to the European defence industry, which has been confused by the multitude of emergency EU defence programmes. The sector has been pressed to offer equipment and production capacities to match the calls for joint procurement (EDIRPA) and to boost ammunition production ramp-up (ASAP), but many have criticised the process as lacking a long-term vision and concrete contracts with the governments.

At the Granada Summit last week, EU leaders said they “will strengthen our defence readiness”.

To do so, Breton said that the European Defence Industry Strategy (EDIS) will include the European Defence Investment Programme (EDIP) to breathe life in the peace-time-sized EU defence industry.

“We must produce more and faster, and not depend on others. But above all, we need to work on the concept of availability of defence equipment,” Breton said, hinting that member states cannot be criticised for buying outside the Union if European equipment is not available.

“To be credible in this endeavour, we need to adapt our European Defence industrial basis to these new realities,” he said.

EDIP “would also establish a regulatory framework to support the Security of Supply and production of defence equipment, a sort of European-style Defence Production Act,” he explained. The move was first reported by Euractiv last month.

The Production Act is likely to include regulatory waivers first proposed in the framework of the act for the ramp-up of ammunition production, but it faced resistance from member states and was delayed.

EU countries must “jointly industrialise, acquire, and even operate the capabilities developed”, Breton said.

Though companies don’t usually invest in production ramp-up without having the contracts, the defence industries will have to. “C’est la vie”, the Commissioner said, bluntly, to the panel of industry representatives.

According to Breton, there cannot be a regulatory gap between the end of the current Ukraine-related emergency programmes and the future EU budget post-2027.

“We must sustain and broaden the ASAP and EDIRPA approaches. We must avoid a “defence shut down” in 2025 and build a bridge towards the next EU budget,” he said. The next budget will cover the period 2028-2034.

The Strategy “would be the precursor of a genuine industrial programme for defence in the next MFF [Multiannual Financial Framework]”, the Commissioner continued.

That said, Breton told the industry representatives they had already been benefiting financially from the war, before adding that “we must also work on the industrial environment: boost access to finance, make the sector more attractive to the brightest and the best, we need more hands and more skills.”

The Commissioner also said the European Defence fund for research and development will have to be reviewed, as Euractiv reported previously.

“To avoid a risk of scattering and dispersion, it is necessary to introduce coherence, continuity and medium-term programming: in brief, introduce a strategic steering of the Fund, with a programming and planning function,” Breton told the panel.

[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski/Nathalie Weatherald]

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