The European Defence Fund: Linking space and defence

Elżbieta Bieńkowska at the 11th Conference on European Space Policy

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurships and SMEs, spoke in Brussels at the 11th Conference on European Space Policy about how the Commission is linking space and defence with the European Defence Fund.

Whilst at the 11th Conference on European Space Policy in Brussels, SciTech Europa listened to the European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurships and SMEs, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, discuss the link between space and defence.
She began her presentation by mentioning that she has “pushed both fronts: space with the €16bn Space Programme and Defence with a €13bn European Defence Fund.”

She continued: “I consider space as the enabler of stronger co-operation in defence, and space projects are, usually by their nature, dual. Discussing defence today is also very timely, especially as defence co-operation is very high on our European agenda. It is a direct response to the call of citizens for a Europe that protects. Europe is facing complex and evolving challenges, and the strategic geopolitical landscape is also evolving.”

In addition to this, Bieńkowska stressed that “no Member State is strong enough to meet these challenges on its own. A stronger Europe in defence is not an option but a necessity. Europe must become a security provider and must ensure gradually its own security.”
For the Commissioner, space is a fundamental element of Europe’s security, and, indeed, she argued that space can now be seen in the same way as other areas of security, such as “air, land, marine and cyber. This is what should happen at EU level,” Bieńkowska added.


Discussing European defence co-operation, the Industry Commissioner explained that, first, EU Member States launched the Permanent Structure Cooperation (PESCO) in Defence, which she described as “a very important step, making the defence cooperation a political objective.” Next, with regard to industry, “the Commission proposed the launch a European Defence Fund with almost €600m up to 2020 (this part is agreed and being implemented) and €13bn over the next seven years. The objectives of the Fund is to support the development of defence capabilities, from research to prototype.” This is also aiming to “spend better by spending together” the Commissioner added.

Regarding research, Bieńkowska explained that a €90m Preparatory Action has now been launched with the first projects have been awarded following two calls in 2017 and 2018. The Commission is now preparing the themes for the 2019 call, she told her audience in Brussels.

The European Defence Fund

Turning her attention then to capability, she explained that June 2017 saw the European Commission propose a European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP), which included €500m for 2019 and 2020 to support the co-financing of prototype development. “Today,” Bieńkowska explained, “we are in the implementation phase and, along with Member States, are now negotiating the first Work Programme, which we should be able to adopt in the coming months. This will be a game changer. We already see that we are changing the way co-operate in defence at the European level. Even if it is a pilot project, Member States are already intending to put high quality projects up for EU financing. Moreover, as part of the different EU budget proposals, the Commission has also proposed a €13bn European Defence Fund, which, when fully fledged, will integrate the research and capability dimensions.”

Bieńkowska also mentioned that these activities build on the existing frameworks, whilst also adding novelty. Alongside this, it has been agreed during the EDIP negotiations that “the EU funds in defence should go to EU-based and controlled companies. Any derogations have been framed to ensure Europe’s strategic autonomy. This is the first time at EU level we managed to agree on defining what the European Defence Industrial Base is and this should not be undermined.

“The negotiations are still ongoing on the European Defence Fund. Doing defence at the European level requires us to change the paradigm, the established co-operation and mindset. This is true for both public authorities and industry; it takes people with clear vision but also political and industrial courage to do so.”

The four synergies

According to the Commissioner: “We need new programmes to enhance the security of the EU and the capacity for Europe to manage these technologies. This is about a Space Situational and Tracking system to protect our assets in space, and GovSatCom to ensure secured communication. These threats … are not theoretical; they are happening now, and the question is not whether there are synergies, but how to work on these synergies.”
Discussing the specific synergies between space programmes and the defence & security dimensions, Bieńkowska then addressed four synergies:

  • Copernicus;
  • Galileo;
  • The Space Surveillance and Tracking System; and
  • GovSatCom.

She said: “Copernicus already responds to the EU security needs through its Emergency Management and Security services, which provide geo-intelligence via satellite images. However, we are now looking at what more we can do by optimising the services offered and acquiring and pooling new capacities whilst looking at how we can extend the security service to new applications.” Moreover, Bieńkowska reassured her audience by mentioning that these future plans do not affect Copernicus’s civilian nature. However, there still needs to be a discussion of the contribution it can bring to more security-related missions.


Discussing Galileo, the Commissioner explained: “This is a civilian system which we built in order to ensure Europe has the right strategic autonomy capacity on a key technology, satellite positioning, which has a direct economic impact but also a strategic one. This is why Galileo is compatible with GPS, but can also work independently, and also why Galileo was conceived with an open and more secured service, ‘Public Regulated Service’ (PRS), in the same way as GPS works.

“PRS is a navigation service for users, authorised by their respective governments in the field of civil protection, customs, and policy, but also, potentially, if the Member States so wish, military. It provides an encrypted signal, with stronger resilience to potential attacks and ensures the high precision and reliability of the information transmitted; it offers a necessary and strategic redundancy to GPS. With Galileo, Europe entered the very closed club of owners of strategic space assets. I know many have doubts in Europe and in the space sector, but Galileo, besides its economic relevance, is a strategic asset for Europe’s strategic autonomy and security.”

The long term protection of European and national infrastructure in space

Another synergy Bieńkowska mentioned was in regard to the Space Surveillance and Tracking system (SST). “This,” she said, “is a strategic element which builds on the SST Support Framework pilot, operational since 2016. Our objective is the long-term protection of European and national infrastructure in space. The Copernicus and Galileo satellites are clear European strategic infrastructures that needs to be protected. In the next EU budget, we proposed that the SST improves its governance, enhances its services, and upgrades its infrastructures to guarantee European autonomy.

“Thanks to SST, we will be able to protect the satellites in orbit from debris. But this could also be the embryo of a more strategic capacity. This could be the first basis of a possible Space Traffic Management system (STM), in the same way as we have the Air Traffic Management system. STM is a clear ambition of the USA, and it should be a medium-term objective for Europe as well.”

The fourth synergy mentioned by Bieńkowska was GovSatCom: “This is a new EU space initiative at the crossroads of space, security, and defence. It will provide guaranteed access to secure satellite communications for authorised users such as national defence forces, police, and civil protection, amongst others. Our two services are closely working on a European initiative on quantum technologies linking terrestrial capacities with space ones.”

This, she said, is an example of the EU’s strategic work and builds on the quantum communication technologies being developed in Europe, especially through Horizon 2020, and the Commission is now proposing to use it and implement it in its programmes.

Disruptive technologies and a ‘European DARPA’

Of course, synergies already exist between space and defence, and the European Commission is, according to Bieńkowska, working on them. She went on: “I am convinced that innovation in space technologies will be partly driven by military needs. In Europe we need to be more supportive of disruptive technologies. The USA is very clear on their intention and they have the means to implement it through, for example, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

“We need a European DARPA. Together with Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science, and Innovation, we have proposed the ‘European Innovation Council’. This will partly answer the need to support disruptive innovation. For the defence dimension, I have proposed that 5% of the €13bn is dedicated to the support of disruptive technologies. My idea is to be able to support fringe technological science in a much more conducive ecosystem, where it is possible to fail and start again. Space technologies should be the core of such an innovation effort.

“If we are serious about ensuring Europe’s strategic autonomy, we need to question our current technological dependence. For this, we have to map these strategic dependencies and develop specific strategies to support the development of European alternatives, through grants or clear procurement rules. This is particularly true for space technologies; there is a need to look at this reality straightforward and propose supporting schemes. Continually, the European co-operation on space and defence must become more operational. Several Member States are considering ways to strengthen their defence doctrine to the space dimension. What is a reality in our partners and at national level should also become a reality at EU level. We need a European Space Force. The co-operation at EU level on a space operational dimension is not an option, it is a necessity and part of our credibility as security provider.”

To conclude her speech, Bieńkowska closed with the idea that “with the proposals on the EU Space Programme and the European Defence Fund, we are laying down solid foundations for further actions. Being ambitious on European Defence is being ambitious on the Europe we want to build. This is certainly the best answer we can give to the current wave of nationalism and populism we see in some of our countries. So, let’s be bold, efficient and ambitious.”

Laboratory Supplies Directory - Now Live


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here