On Tuesday, the European Commission (EC) began its work with member states on the first joint European defence projects to be financed under the future EU budget.

Under the European Defence Industrial Development Programme, the EC will propose the use of funds for the EU budget 2019-2020, eventually paving the way for a future European Defence Fund planned for 2021-2027.

EC vice-president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness Jyrki Katainen said: “Defence cooperation in Europe helps member states spend taxpayer money more efficiently, reduce duplications in spending, and get better value for money.

“Defence cooperation promotes a strong and innovative defence industry and raises the EU’s autonomy and technological leadership in defence. Unthinkable only a few years ago, defence cooperation is becoming a reality today.”

Under president Claude Juncker, the EC has taken initial steps to boost European cooperation on defence research and development. In June 2018, the EC proposed a €13bn budget for the future European Defence Fund, which is currently in discussion between the European Parliament and the European Council.

"Defence cooperation in Europe helps member states spend taxpayer money more efficiently, reduce duplications in spending, and get better value for money."

For the 2017-2021 period, the EU will be incentivising greater cooperation in the defence sector through a €590m investment. Of the sum, €90m will be used for defence research projects through to 2019, while the remaining €500m will be used to develop equipment and technology through to 2021.

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EU nations are already collaborating on joint European defence projects to some extent, evidenced by the Ocean2020 research project, which focuses on developing maritime surveillance mission support and the integration of novel technologies, such as drones and unmanned submarines into fleet operations.

Another example is the European MALE RPAS, which is a joint unmanned aerial vehicle project between France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic.

EC commissioner for internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs Elżbieta Bieńkowska said: “To protect our citizens, Europe needs cutting-edge, interoperable defence technology and equipment in novel areas like artificial intelligence, encrypted software, drone technology or satellite communication. Thanks to the European Defence Fund, we are making this happen. We are ensuring Europe becomes a stronger security provider.”