MPs and industrialists highlight need for rapid creation of European armaments agency

The rapid creation of a European armaments agency is seen by the region's senior politicians and industrialists as crucial to an effective European defence capability, but only if it incorporates existing organisations and does not become another layer of bureaucracy.

Speakers at a conference on European security and defence policy in Baveno, Italy, last week stressed the importance of such an agency. Burkard Schmitt of the Paris-based Institute for Security Studies, says: "The challenge now is to use the existing useful elements, improve and complement them, and integrate them into a coherent structure."

Italy has circulated a draft paper on the agency in an attempt to reach a formal decision by the 15 European Union governments in December and implement the agency by next year.

Vice Adm Giampaolo di Paola, Italy's procurement director, says a "wide consensus" is emerging that the agency should act as "the central and active core of a network structure, making use of the capabilities provided by existing European organisations." He says issues still under discussion include the agency's legal status, governing authority and funding.

Dutch defence minister Henk Kamp says organisations such as the Western European Armaments Group (WEAG); the Western European Armaments Organisation; European procurement agency OCCAR; and the six-nation "Letter of Intent" (LoI) group, should be replaced with "a single EU framework," and the proposed agency "offers us the opportunity to achieve that goal by the end of next year". Kamp says the Netherlands will try to finalise the project during its six-month EU presidency in 2004.

Jean Wesener, European Defence Industries Group secretary general, says that from an industry standpoint, the creation of such an agency "would be the most acceptable...and most suited framework for implementing a truly common European defence equipment market", allowing all companies "to deal with the same interfaces, processes and rules for bidding, developing, delivering and supporting equipment".

Wesener says it would "prevent duplication of capabilities and harmonise national procedures", and, like Kamp, believes it could quickly be operational "by building on" the OCCAR experience.

Source: Flight International