Europe’s Ammunition And Electric Cars Connection  – QUICK TAKE

The EU's green agenda and enhancing defence industry capacity are intricately linked and crucial for the future of the European project

28 March 2024

Martin Ehl

Senior Fellow

The EU’s green agenda and boosting the defence industry capacity have more in common than meets the eye. In fact, the future of the European project depends on realising how vital the connection is.

Gigabytes of words have been written, said and televised in recent weeks about the need to increase the production of ammunition, weapons and other military equipment in the European Union.

The same has been true for a long time about the need to increase European industrial production of green technologies due to climate change and the strategy of “de-risking” from dependence on China by mining and processing precious metals and minerals on the EU territory.

 

Not just dirty chemistry

Aside from “dirty” chemistry and endlessly long permitting processes, ammunition production and rare earth processing have one crucial thing in common: the European Union desperately needs to invest in them after having regulated them so restrictively that the bloc lags behind the rest of the world in both areas.

In the current geopolitical context, which does not require much explaining, it is painfully obvious Europe needs to become as independent as possible to ensure its security, boost growth and win wide citizens’ backing for green policies.

It can achieve this by making clear the two industries are, in fact, connected. Sensing that this will be seen as mixing apples with pears, I would like to offer the following reflection after several weeks of mapping the Union’s efforts to increase the production of artillery ammunition and after spending a day at the Czech Association of International Affairs (AMO) conference precisely about critical materials in the EU.

After decades of assuming that peace and mutually beneficial free trade with China can be taken for granted, Europeans are now finding that they need to transform the very foundations on which European integration rests in a fairly fundamental way.

However, there is no time for a lengthy and complicated change to the treaties to pave the way for the re-shaping of EU priorities and enable the bloc to catch up with China, and now also the US, in making its industrial revival compatible with the green and security agenda.

Europe is cumbersome in this regard; it is neither a centralised communist dictatorship like China nor a federal democracy like the US.

The discussions, calls and plans of politicians, academics and analysts look rather ridiculous when heard by practitioners who try to navigate the bureaucratic barriers to building anything that smells of chemicals. The EU officials shuffling the same money from one pile of the EU budget to another leaves the industry exasperated. The trick really is not to change the labels on the envelopes from “green” to “defence industry”.

Of course, money is important. But throwing money at the problem in the hope that business and industry will somehow solve the challenge of increasing the production of ammunition and rare metals is naive. First, there is need of much more money than has been offered so far from existing sources. Second, this money should be spent more wisely with the help of real industrial strategy and deregulation of both industries.

Even more so when some voices in Europe argue that beefing up the defence industry would come at the expense of the green agenda – a point made at the AMO conference by Laurence Tubian, head of the influential European Climate Foundation.

The effort to develop the European defence industry, i.e. the question of the physical defence of Europeans itself, and the shift in the ability to produce green technologies, i.e. reducing dependence on China and increasing global competitiveness, are a practical reflection of the geopolitical rivalry of the newly reshaped world.

Both of these simultaneous processes will tell a lot about how the necessary internal transformation of the union will take place and how it will turn out.

The new European Commission will have a challenging time after the June elections. According to some opinions, the next few years will be about the survival of the EU when facing geopolitical challenges like militarily more aggressive Russia and economically more advanced China.

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This article was published in Czech on Hospodářské noviny and can be found here.

Martin Ehl

Senior Fellow

Visegrad Insight Senior Fellow. Martin Ehl is the Chief Analyst at Hospodářské noviny (Economic daily)

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