Talks could lead to organisation mirroring USA's DARPA, with opt-out for neutrals

European Union(EU)plans to co-ordinate government-funded defence research have been boosted after the European Commission (EC) agreed to draw up a framework for debate of the subject. Greece is keen to start the discussions during its current six-month presidency of the EU, but expects opposition from neutral countries.

The EC is to embark on around four months of shuttle diplomacy to assess the technical implications of any EU defence research programme before attempting to place the item on the agenda of a ministers' meeting on 19 May. The EC's Research, Development Technology and Innovation directorate general (DG-RDT) is likely to propose two options.

The first option would be a defence research agency that would be a full EU body similar to an existing civilian research agency and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); the second would be the creation of a non-governmental agency, of which the EU would be one member, along with some member states.

Neutral countries such as Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden have already expressed an interest in securing opt-out clauses for any proposal, but Greek negotiators are pushing a "contributing observer" status to guarantee a budget of around c1.8 billion ($1.9 billion)over five years, which would also include contributions from EU-based defence companies. "There is so much blurring of the threshold between civilian and military research that Europe is falling behind by not allowing research into projects with possible military applications," DG-RDT says. The EC believes that military research creates a "virtuous circle of growth".

France and the UK have been promoting the idea of EU research funds being diverted into military projects and are expected to lobby for the creation of a defence research element of an independent armaments agency.

Source: Flight International