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NewsSpace and defence press conference by Commissioner Breton

Space and defence press conference by Commissioner Breton

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European Commission
European Commission
The European Commission (EC) is the executive branch of the European Union, responsible for proposing legislation, enforcing EU laws and directing the union's administrative operations. Commissioners swear an oath at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg City, pledging to respect the treaties and to be completely independent in carrying out their duties during their mandate. (Wikipedia)

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European Commission Speech Strasbourg, 15 Feb 2022

Today, I am not going to promise to be concise, because presenting two packages on such a wide range of topics in a few minutes is not an easy task! 

Many recent events have confirmed that it is essential for Europe to invest substantially and urgently in defence, cyber security and space.

Space and defence: It is therefore only natural to present these two packages together.

In my discussions with my counterparts in the Member States, in all the ministerial discussions in the Council [defence and foreign affairs], I notice a real awareness that we must do more together in order to build a Europe of Defence.

This is the meaning of the Strategic Compass presented by Josep Borrell and which is currently being discussed by the Member States.

Today we present our contribution – as Commission – to this unprecedented exercise. Our approach is based on 3 priorities.

Priority number 1, strengthen the development and joint procurement of defence capabilities.

With the European Defence Fund, Europe has finally acquired a real tool for financing European capabilities. It is a real “game changer”. I am in charge of its implementation. The Compass will help us up-front to better establish our priorities. Afterwards, it will be possible, with stronger incentives, to increase the joint purchase of capabilities developed in a European framework. Today, only 11% of public spending on defence is done jointly, far from the 35% target set by the Member States. This will be one of the objectives of the Defence Fund.

Priority number 2, reduce strategic and technological dependencies

Today we cannot talk about semiconductors, artificial intelligence, cloud, quantum technology, supercomputers, space or cyber, without thinking about defence and security. All of these elements contribute to our strategic autonomy, our resilience when it comes to defence.

Together with the Member States, we will draw up a classified biannual report on the state of our strategic dependencies and, as we do for defence, a capability plan for security. This will enable greater synergy to emerge between civilian and defence research, by organising our innovation capacity as well as possible around a defence innovation incubator.

Priority number 3, better protect contested areas

This is a new domain and the European Union is alone to face these threats.

New areas of conflict are emerging: cyber, hybrid threats and space.

This is precisely where our action at the level of the Commission and the Union has the most added value, including on very operational elements where NATO is not or hardly present.

On the cyber front, Europe is currently not sufficiently organised to deal with large-scale attacks. However, the Union is only as strong as its weakest link.

We have already done a lot on the regulatory front. We need to go further, particularly on products, with the Cyber Resilience Act announced by the President, and on infrastructures, with a European infrastructure of cyber security operation centers (SOCs). These will be our virtual border guards, sort of the FRONTEX of cyberspace.

I am convinced that in this area, and this is also true for hybrid threats, the Member States are now ready to go further together to be more effective, less dispersed and more coordinated. This is a part I personally want to be involved in.

On space, we believe it is necessary to develop a real space dimension in our defence cooperation along the following lines:

Firstly, the generalisation of the defence dimension in our infrastructures and the “Dual by design” for new projects.

Secondly, adequate governance for all actors: industrial and institutional, EU or intergovernmental bodies.

Thirdly, a medium-term objective of achieving a “common threat awareness” or even a “space command” capability.

Let me say a word here about Space Traffic Management – the new European approach in this regard.

Space is increasingly contested, however, it is also increasingly congested.

Places in orbit are becoming increasingly difficult to book and frequencies are becoming scarce. And the space debris is multiplying. It is estimated that there are about 130 million small pieces of debris in orbit and almost 1 million large pieces of debris, creating major risks for our infrastructure. It is therefore necessary to follow the orbits of each of these pieces of debris.

We are going to launch more than 20.000 satellites within the next ten years with all the risks of debris that this implies.

This is why we are now proposing a European approach to space traffic management to cover both, operational and regulatory needs and to pursue the necessary international cooperation, notably with the United States. Europe needs its own logic.

Let me finish with a few words on the secure constellation proposal we are presenting today.

Europe is a space power; it now has an ambitious €15 billion space programme that funds our two world-class infrastructures: Galileo for positioning, enterprises and citizens, and Copernicus for earth observation. Copernicus allows us to monitor the oceans, climate changes.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels, our competitors are moving fast. We propose a third architecture. We must act fast. If Europe does not adapt, if it does not accelerate, it risks being downgraded. This is why we are now entering the race for low-orbit constellations.

With this project, we have 4 objectives:

First, CONNECTIVITY: Today, only 56% of EU households have broadband access and there are still too many dead zones. We therefore aim to provide very high-speed internet access everywhere on the continent by putting an end to white areas.

Secondly, RESILIENCE: The confinements of the last two years have shown the limits of our terrestrial networks, with a significant risk of saturation or cyber attacks. It is therefore necessary to ensure a “Plan B” to keep Europe connected whatever happens. We have to ensure satellite redundancy.

Thirdly, SECURITY: We want to build an ultra-secure infrastructure with quantum encryption. We must project Europe into the era of quantum encryption; this is the technological sovereignty of tomorrow. We will accelerate the mastery of these technology.

Finally, it is an eminently GEOSTRATEGIC project in two ways.

We will be able to provide connectivity to all of Africa. It is a tremendous accelerator of economic development for this continent. We had the opportunity to discuss this with President von der Leyen and President Sall: this is an opportunity for Europe, an opportunity for Africa, and an opportunity for Europe/Africa links.

We aim here to reduce future dependencies on non-European systems. This is the Galileo moment of connectivity: we want a constellation that is interoperable with others, but autonomous if necessary.

Technological sovereignty, dual infrastructures and joint investments: with the initiatives we are proposing, we are making progress towards a European Union that is asserting itself and taking the measure of its place and its role in the geopolitical balances of today’s world.

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