US defence industry concerned by possible French No

(Filipe Rufino, EUobserver, 27 May 2005)

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - A possible French "no" to the European Constitution referendum is causing some US defence industry chiefs concern.

"I am worried about the repercussions in European Foreign and Security Policy if the French vote no on Sunday", said Robert Bell, a former NATO and White House official turned defence industry executive.

Speaking on Thursday (26 May) at a conference organized by the New Defence Agenda, a pro-defence industry forum, Mr Bell added that the EU needs more defence integration and needs to be up to the challenge of stabilizing the situation in Kosovo, "which could re-ignite at any moment", he added.

The US needs a stronger EU with which it can share the burden of military operations in the world, said a veteran US lobbyist present at the meeting. "We [the US] are too stretched, and, lets face it, we are going broke", he added.

The European Constitutional text paves the way for European countries to increase military cooperation by the means of a "Structured Cooperation Procedure".

Under the procedure, a smaller number of states could run more demanding military missions, while others can opt to wait and see from the sidelines.

But the constitution does not establish a European army and foreign policy issues remain subject to unanimity by member states.

The constitution also establises a defence agency, open to member states that wish to participate.

The article states that the agency will "contribute to identifying the Member States' military capability objectives and evaluating observance of the capability commitments given by the Member States".

It is also to "promote harmonisation of operational needs and adoption of effective, compatible procurement methods".

A defence agency has already been established by member states in 2004, but it still has to find its feet.

"The US Defence market grew by 30% in the last ten years, while in Europe it remained flat", said Edgar Buckley, a former NATO and UK Foreign Office official turned military industry entrepreneur.

EU member states' defence budgets "have not even been adjusted for inflation" according to NATO assistant Secretary General for Defence investment, Marshall Billingslea.