Brussels, 14 Jan 2003
The Commission has welcomed comments from the Greek Presidency suggesting that the EU should fund defence research projects, and has called for further debate on the issue.
Nikos Christodoulakis, the Greek Finance Minister, is the latest to advocate an end to the EU policy of research funds being strictly limited to civilian projects. He argues that the commercial spin-off opportunities presented by military research are key to Europe achieving its goal of becoming the world's most competitive economy by 2010.
A spokesperson for EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin welcomed the Minister's comments, and said that the Commission looks forward to further debate on the issue by Member States and the European Council. 'There is often a thin line between military research and civilian use, and it is worth considering the impact on competitiveness that commercial spin-offs could have,' he said.
A well cited example is that of the US, where high defence research spending continues to have a visible impact on the national economy.
At this stage, the Commission envisages two possible methods by which defence research could be included in Community activities. The first would be through the creation of a European defence research agency, along the lines of the US defence advanced research projects agency (DARPA), which would coordinate and allocate resources to joint EU projects.
The second possible move would be to create a new EU research programme, similar to the current Framework Programmes for research and development, but with a military focus.
The financial resources for either system could come from a new line in the EU budget, or an intergovernmental mechanism funded directly by Member States.
The spokesperson for Mr Busquin stressed that there are no plans to include defence projects within the existing structure of EU research framework programmes, and described the Commission's role in the debate as that of an observer.
Any form of EU funding for defence projects could face opposition from some Member States, especially militarily neutral countries such as Ireland, Sweden, Austria and Finland.