Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The EU’s €90 million preparatory action on defence research (PADR) was only partially useful in priming the EU to significantly ramp up its defence spending and pave the way for the €8 billion European Defence Fund (EDF), according to a report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA).
Projects funded under the PADR faced time constraints and did not deliver results in time to prepare the launch of the EDF, which only started in 2023, EU auditors said.
“The PADR had by far the biggest budget of all EU pilot projects and preparatory actions between 2014 and 2019: it funded 18 projects to develop technologies such as adaptive camouflage, bullet-proof vests and laser systems,” ECA stated.
EU auditors claim that both the PADR and the EDF budgets are dwarfed by the defence R&D budgets of EU countries and bigger global players.
Despite recognizing that the European Commission and the European Defence Agency (EDA) gained some useful lessons on how to manage cooperative defence research projects, EU auditors said it was insufficient, noting that the EU still lacks a long-term strategy for the EDF.
Defence spending supporting R&D
The Commission launched the PADR in 2017 as a three-year programme to help improve competitiveness and innovation in the European defence industry.
This was the first time the EU budget was used to support research and development (R&D) in the defence industry. Later in 2021, the EDF was launched and marked a significant increase in the level of EU funding for defence R&D.
“Although the PADR provided the EU with an opportunity to test different options in funding defence research, delays and the paucity of results limited the lessons learnt for its bigger successor – the EDF,” said Viorel Ştefan, ECA member responsible for the report.
EU auditors found that PADR projects progressed slowly, experienced delays and consequently overlapped with the EDF. In May 2021, when the first EDF calls for proposals were launched, most PADR projects were still ongoing.
Moreover, PADR project coordinators and participants were concentrated in a handful of member states that already had large defence industries, such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden.
“The Commission should work with member states to develop a long-term strategy, which is essential for the future of the EDF as the EU’s main defence fund,” added Stefan.
Last March, the Commission announced an additional €1.2 billion towards the EDF to “unlock new funding for defence projects to jointly develop strategic defence capabilities and technologies”.
The Left in the European Parliament has been vocal against the EDF since its onset, saying that the Commission is circumventing EU law since it can’t own military assets. It is earmarking the funds as “promoting competition” and “industrial policy”.
“Throwing billions into the arms industry is politically wrong, not least because this money could be used to tackle the economic, ecological, and social crisis. Instead, we’re developing equipment to fuel violence and war,” denounced MEP Özlem Demirel.