European armaments in the French White Paper

La profession de foi en faveur d’une Europe de la défense contenue dans le Livre blanc qui vient d’être publié en France est minée par des considérations plus "pragmatiques" liées aux coupes dans les budgets militaires, estime Daniel Fiott, dans un commentaire publié par le site European Geostrategy.

Careful reading of the 2013 French White Paper on Defence reveals that France is gradually altering its stance on the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy. In 2008 France was ‘ambitious’ for the policy but in 2013 nearly every mention of the policy is followed by the word ‘pragmatism’ ; the French love affair with L’Europe de la défense is on the wane. For now, a more idealistic vision for the policy has been surpassed by events such as the American pivot. Asia’s rise is calling American power into question, and European allies have annoyed France over Libya and Mali. Such events actually make the Common Security and Defence Policy less desirable or necessary in French eyes.

The same cannot be said for France’s approach to military-industrial integration at the European-level. It is for this reason that France lists the European military-technological and industrial base as a strategic priority for the country. Just as France’s national base is key for its own strategic autonomy, so to does the country believe a European base is a way to strengthen the European Union’s strategic position. One unanswered question in the White Paper, however, is how Europe can have a common industrial base when it does not have a single strategic outlook. Military-industrial bases need strategic direction, and Europe has neither a base nor strategy.

France wants to see a complete restructuring of the European armaments market on the strict principles of industrial efficiency and economic performance. It wants a European base that works for its specialised regional clusters, harmonises equipment needs, prioritises security of supply and intellectual property rights, streamlines European export procedures and protects critical military technologies in Europe. In the 2013 White Paper, such protection would involve increasing information exchanges between the European Union’s Member States, conducting political risk analysis of defence firms at the European-level to identify competitive vulnerabilities and a long-term security of supply policy for critical strategic materials.

What then is France willing to give in return for a more Franco-centered European base ? The immediate response is not as much as it wants. Nevertheless, the first aspect is a more centralised role for the European Defence Agency. Indeed, the 2013 Defence White Paper wants it to play an increased role as an incubator able to trigger very early future technological and industrial cooperation between partners in the European Union. France also wants the European Defence Agency to provide a common framework for equipment acquisitions, and in return it states in the White Paper that it would implement its various codes of conduct on military matters. In the context of the Atlantic Alliance’s ‘Smart Defence’, France significantly wants to see greater coordination between the European Defence Agency and the Alliance on equipment development and procurement.

On page 65 of the White Paper, France calls for a European Union White Paper on security and defence, but this is nothing more than tinkering at the margins. Paris knows this idea will not be agreed on any time soon, but it at least gives the appearance of France’s continued interest in the Common Security and Defence Policy. France should instead aim at a ‘bottom-up’ approach to the policy. It has so far focused on issues such as a common European approach to intervention in places such as Libya. But it has always been naive to speak of a single European strategic policy without a more integrated military-industrial base ; such a base is the only basis for a more meaningful European military policy.