Monday, January 24, 2005

Now this is important

If the Sun really wants to get worked up about the EU, its journalists could do no better than look at page 13 of The Daily Telegraph.

Tucked into the gutter is a single column story labelled "EU arms chief aims to end local deals", which has phenomenal importance to the defence of this country, the survival of the defence industry – with all the jobs entailed – and, to a certain extent, the continuance of the "special relationship" with the United States.

All of this might seem rather alarmist if the text of the story is taken at face value, for it recounts simply that "The new arms chief of the European Union" – how many people know we have an arms chief? – "has issued a blunt warning that the days of governments favouring domestic companies when buying tanks or other major military hardware are over."

This is Nick Witney, a former senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defence, talking, now the chief executive of the European Defence Agency. The Telegraph accurately describes this as "the EU's fledgling arms procurement group".

He is saying that there must be more "collective decision-making" over what goes into Europe's armouries now that military units under EU command are a reality on the ground. "There is a broad consensus," he says, "that we can't have all procurement programs formulated on a solely national basis anymore."

The man says it is mission to halt what he called "business as usual", in which defence ministries draw up weapons plans then hand contracts to favoured local firms. He said he was talking to defence ministries about a code of conduct in which, in certain areas of defence spending, "competition would generally be the norm even if not required by the treaty".

Exceptions should be allowed, and national governments respected, said Mr Witney. But he added: "If an exception on project X or Y was made by a government, they should offer an explanation to a central monitoring point to provide transparency to see who follows and who is not following the code."

Therein lies the core of the EU strategy towards defence integration, which we have pointed up in previous posting.

Based on the Monnet method, the EU is looking to technical harmonisation of military hardware, common procurement standards, and eventually centralised European manufacturers, bringing to fruition Monnet’s dream of integrating the war-making resources of nation states to the extent that none has the independent capability of arming its own forces. The worst of it all is that this is integration by stealth, without any real debate in parliament or elsewhere.

Such talk, says the Telegraph, will send shivers down spines in Paris, Rome and other capitals where, for all the lip-service paid to European unity money is still channelled, time and again, towards cherished "national champions".

But what is alarming is how willingly the British government seems to be following this route, notable in its recent decision to provide German trucks for the army, despite home-built models being available, with superior specifications. To this day, it still amazes me how little press comment there was on the decision (i.e., none).

Concern over this issue, however, is no harking for self-sufficiency or a protectionist cry. There are very real issues of national security here, where over-reliance on non-domestic suppliers can prejudice policy decisions, if for instance – as happened in the first Gulf War – foreign-based suppliers refuse to deliver equipment, spares or, in that particular case, ammunition.

Furthermore, there is the issue of "interoperablilty", the ability of different equipment to work together and, as the EU develops its own technical standards, the likelihood of our forces being able to fight alongside the US, with its different standards, progressively diminishes. We face the prospect at some time in the future of not being able to ally ourselves with the Americans, simply because it is technically impossible - with dangerous implications for the "special relationship".

What we are dealing with, therefore, is a further dilution of national sovereignty, for largely political reasons the nature of which, as we pointed out in our most recent posting, has barely begun to be perceived. Now that is something the Sun could really get excited about.

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