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15th Anniversary of the European Defence Agency

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On July 12, 2004—15 years ago today—the European Union’s (EU) Council Joint Action 2004/551/CFSP created the European Defence Agency (EDA). In 2011, the Joint Action was replaced by Council Decision 2011/411/CFSP, which was revised in 2015 by Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1835.  These legislative acts implement the requirements of article 42 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which, among other things, sets out the EDA’s tasks.

The EDA is an intergovernmental agency in the “field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition, and armaments.” (Joint Action, art. 1.) Its mission is “to support the Council [of the European Union] 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 [European Security and Defence Policy] as it stands now and develops in the future.” (Id. art. 2, para. 1.)

EDA 15 Years Anniversary Ceremony. Photo by Flickr user European Defence Agency. June 25, 2019. Copyright @European Defence Agency, 2019. Used with permission of the EDA.

Historical Development

The idea of a common European Defence Agency is not new. As early as 1952, after the European Coal and Steel Community was created, plans for a European Defence Community (EDC) accompanied by a European Political Community (EPC) were discussed. The French National Assembly, however, was opposed to the establishment of an EDC, in particular to a German remilitarization, and rejected the treaty in August 1954. As the EPC was supposed to be the institutional corollary to the EDC (EDC Treaty, art. 38), both plans were abandoned. It was therefore decided in 1954 to instead invite Germany and Italy to join the Western European Union (WEU), an international organization founded in 1948 with the goal to “collaborat[e] in economic, social and cultural matters and for collective self-defence.”

In February 1976, the thirteen European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) founded the Independent European Program Group (IEPG) to foster cooperation on armaments procurement. On December 10, 1991, the WEU ministers at a meeting in Maastricht called for ”enhanced cooperation in the fields of armaments with the aim of creating a European armaments agency.” In December 1992, the defense ministers of the IEPG countries decided to transfer the functions of the IEPG to the WEU and agreed on the following main principles for the transfer:

  • All 13 nations should be entitled to participate fully and with the same rights and responsibilities, in any European armaments cooperation forum.
  • There should be a single European armaments cooperation forum.
  • Armaments cooperation in Europe should be managed by the National Armaments Directors of all the 13 nations, who will be accountable to the Ministers of Defense of those governments.
  • The existing links with NATO and EDIG [European Defence Industries Group] should be maintained.

In May 1993, the WEU Council of Ministers reaffirmed the key principles on which armaments cooperation should be based, and created the Western European Armaments Group (WEAG). In March 1993, the WEAG set up an ad hoc study group “to examine all matters related to the possible creation of a European Armaments Agency (EAA).” It concluded that the conditions for the creation of such an agency did not exist at the time. However, the work of the ad hoc study group contributed to the establishment of the Western European Armaments Organisation as a WEU subsidiary body in November 1996. In 1998, the WEAG ministers agreed upon a ”Masterplan for the the European Armaments Agency” to develop the rules and regulations as well as the structure and working procedures for an EAA.

The topic of European defense and cooperation in defense matters was also taken up in the European Union (EU) treaties adopted during that time. The Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty), which entered into force on November 1, 1993, created the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The CFSP was strengthened in the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997). The Treaty of Amsterdam also created the position of High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, which was to be exercised by the Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union. (Treaty of Amsterdam, art. J.8, para. 3.) The Treaty of Lisbon (2007) made the High Representative one of the Vice Presidents of the European Commission. (Treaty of Lisbon, art. 9 E, para. 2.)

On July 6, 1998, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom signed a Letter of Intent concerning “Measures to Facilitate the Restructuring of European Defence Industry.” Building on the Letter of Intent, they signed a Framework Agreement in 2000, an intergovernmental treaty outside of the framework of the EU, which was ratified in 2001. The Framework Agreement further intensified defense cooperation in the EU, in particular in the areas of restructuring of the European defense industry; security of supply; export control procedures for military goods and technologies; security of classified information; research and technology; intellectual property rights; and harmonization of military requirements of armed forces. (Framework Agreement, art. 1.)

Starting in December 1998, Member States of the EU called for the CFSP to be given the means and capabilities to respond to international crises. This culminated in the Helsinki Headline Goal in 1999, a set of military capability targets to be completed by 2003. In December 2001, the Convention on the Future of Europe was established, which presented a draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe in 2003.  It contained a provision that required the establishment of an “European Defence Agency” (Draft Constitution, art. I-41). The Constitution was ultimately rejected by France and the Netherlands and did not enter into force; however, the requirement to establish an EDA was included in the Treaty of Lisbon of 2007. As mentioned, on July 12, 2004, the EDA was formally created.

Current Activities of the EDA

All EU Member States participate in the activities of the EDA, with the exception of Denmark, which has opted out of the Common Security and Defence Policy. One of the EDA’s current priorities is the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). The PESCO is a process to deepen defense cooperation by jointly developing defense capabilities and making them available for EU military operations. It takes place on a voluntary basis. Other areas of activity in which the EDA supports the EU Member States are the development of remotely piloted aircraft systems, developing air-to-air refueling capabilities, developing a new generation of governmental satellite communications, assisting Member States in developing cyber defense capabilities, defense research and technology, data sharing solutions for European navies, exercise and training, pooled procurement, supporting the fight against improvised explosive devices, harmonizing European military regulations, the Single European Sky, and many more.

Additional Resources on the European Union

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