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EDA European Defence Innovation Day 2022

HR/VP Keynote speech: “Our ability to innovate, at EU and national level, will determine the position of the EU on the global stage.” At the European Defence Innovation Day, organised by the Europe Defence Agency under the auspices of the French Presidency, HR/VP Borrell focuses on the need to invest more in defence innovation.

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Good afternoon,

It is a pleasure to address you at the first European Defence Innovation Day, organised by the Europe Defence Agency, under the auspices of the French Presidency.

The continuing and horrific Russian war of aggression against Ukraine and the return of power politics around the world vividly demonstrates why we must be ready to defend our citizens, values and interests. This requires us to invest more in defence and make up for years of budget cuts and underinvestment.

Today, Heads of State and Government discussed European defence, based on the defence investment gaps analysis I presented together with the Commission.

This analysis identified 1) which defence capabilities we lack; 2) where we should prioritise our investments, and 3) how we should coordinate our work, starting with joint procurement. The message is clear: we need to reduce fragmentation and invest more together, starting now.

While the focus of the discussion was mainly on the short-term needs – how to replenish our stocks and augment existing capabilities - we should also look at the future and longer-term needs.

For this we need innovation to modernise our armed forces. We either innovate or we risk becoming irrelevant in the field of defence.

As today’s innovation show demonstrates, the EU and its Member States already have access to some of the most innovative solutions and equipment in the world. For example, many of the anti-tank weapons used with such effectiveness by the Ukrainian forces over the past months were designed and built in Europe.

Yet, we all need to do much more together. According to the latest EDA figures, in 2021 EU Member States spent €3.3 billion on Research & Technology– amounting to 1,5% of the total defence expenditure. While this is an improvement compared to 1,2% in 2020, it still remains below the agreed EDA benchmark and PESCO commitment of 2%.

In the same vein, collaborative investment in Research & Technology remains low. In 2020, it reached the lowest point with 6% of total R&T expenditure. In 2021, it slightly improved reaching 7%, but still far below the agreed benchmark of 20%.

To retain an edge over competitors and potential adversaries, we must make full use of emerging and disruptive technologies to develop capabilities across the full spectrum. This requires strong links between civilian innovation and defence innovation.

The defence sector has often been at the forefront of innovation. Space-based navigation systems such as Galileo and the GPS are well-known examples. But innovation today is often led by civilian companies and driven by commercial markets. For example, the development of 5G network technologies for the civilian market also allows for unprecedented speed and volume of data transfers for new military applications.

Space is another example: from a mostly sovereign and non-commercial domain it has evolved into one where private actors are increasingly active and provide services relevant for defence applications – from space-based observation and communication to space traffic management. It is no accident that we dedicated this year’s EDA’s innovation prize to “defence in space”.

In fact, civilian and defence innovation are increasingly blended. Think of the widespread deployment of commercial drones for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting in the war in Ukraine. It shows how the innovative use of civilian technologies affects battlefield outcomes.

Throughout history technological innovation has shaped the global balance of power. The question is: how can EDA and EU institutions best serve Member States on defence innovation?

The EDA certainly has a key role to play in defence innovation. It has been dealing with innovation since its creation in 2004. And it has already delivered. Successful examples include projects on drone swarms; technologies for electromagnetic railguns; or new clean energy technologies to lower the carbon footprint and decrease energy dependencies in the defence sector. These are all initiatives developed in the EDA framework.

Since 2018, the Agency has also been organising the ‘EDA Defence Innovation Prize’ to reward the development of ground-breaking technologies, products or services applicable in the defence domain.

One example is ‘smart textiles’: It started with an EDA innovation prize won by AITEX, a Spanish research centre for the textile sector. As a follow-up, an EDA study was conducted to build a prototype - which is also exhibited here today. And now the topic of “smart textiles” is also set to be part of the European Defence Fund work programme 2022.

Through the Coordinated Annual Review of Defence, the EDA has identified over 100 collaborative opportunities in capability development and research & technology. It is now up to Member States to seize these opportunities and invest more together.

The Commission has also made important contributions in the dual-use area. For example, by dedicating 8% of the European Defence Fund budget to emerging disruptive technologies. Just last week, the Commission announced an investment of €2 billion over the next 5 years in defence innovation under the umbrella of the “EU Defence Innovation Scheme” developed together with EDA.

As Head of the European Defence Agency, I am pleased that less than two months after the adoption of the Strategic Compass, we deliver today on one of its key proposals: we launch today the EDA Hub for European Defence Innovation, or HEDI.

The Hub will assist our Member States and their Armed Forces to step up their innovation efforts to be ready for the future battlefield. It will help foster defence research and innovation, and strengthen the integration of civilian and military domains.

For example, it will create networks of researchers across Europe to exchange best practices; it will scale up the ‘EDA innovation prizes’ to support the development of innovative ideas towards ‘proofs-of-concept’; or organise regular “European Defence Innovation Show” to show-case innovation projects.

By doing so, the Hub will promote innovative solutions in close cooperation with the Commission’s initiatives in the field of defence innovation. It will also ensure coherence with NATO’s defence innovation initiatives (notably DIANA - Defence Innovation Accelerator of the North Atlantic).

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our ability to innovate, at EU and national level, will determine the position of the EU on the global stage.

Across EU institutions and EU Member States, we do have expertise, tools, frameworks and resources to promote defence innovation.

As of today, we also have a Hub to bring all this closer together – to support Member States to better prepare their armed forces for the future battlefield and next generation technologies.

Time for action is now. We urgently need to invest more in defence innovation. We need to do it together, and we need to do it now.

Thank you.