The European Defence Agency (EDA) is set to start operations by mid-2004 to co-ordinate military acquisition programmes among its members and help Europe's defence industries be internationally competitive.

"As the future head of the defence agency, I am strongly committed to seeing that the 'Agency Establishment Team' can start its work in January 2004," says Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security policy representative. He told European defence ministers on 17 November in Brussels that he hoped to be able to "keep the momentum going" so that the agency "can start operating before the summer of 2004".

The agency aims to help members identify future defence requirements, assess commitments made by member states through the European Capability Action Plan process, harmonise weapons procurement, identify potential areas of operational collaboration and assess financial priorities for weapons development and acquisition.

Any European Union member state can join the EDA, which will be governed by a steering board made up of defence ministers of the member states and a representative of the EU. Meetings will be chaired by the EU's foreign and security policy representative and a chief executive will be appointed. Budgetary arrangements will be worked out by the establishment team early next year.

The agency will propose multilateral projects and aims to co-ordinate programmes implemented by member states and to manage specific co-operation programmes, as the European procurement directorate OCCAR does for multinational acquisition programmes such as the A400M military transport. It will set up working relationships with existing EU organisations and groupings, and the Western European Armaments Group/Western European Armaments Organisation, "with a view to incorporating them or to assimilating their principles and practices".

UK defence secretary Geoff Hoon insists the agency will not pursue a "buy European" policy in defence equipment - despite moves in the US Congress to support a "Buy American" policy.

"As a European defence minister," he says, "I recognise that Congress has taken this particular decision but it's not one that I particularly approve of. I don't think it helps free trade and I don't think it helps improving military capabilities in the USA or anywhere else in the world."

Source: Flight International