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The European ‘drone club’: coming to a sky near you

By Dean Carroll

A feasibility study on a European Union military drone programme has received backing from seven influential member states in an effort to boost the continent’s defence and surveillance capabilities. During a dramatic meeting of the European Defence Agency – France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain agreed to the bold move. A letter of intent was signed by the seven defence ministers committing the EDA to researching the potential for joint production of ‘medium altitude long endurance craft’ in the 2020s.

Explaining the rationale, the EDA said the programme would help Europe’s major defence players “to exchange information as well as to identify and facilitate cooperation” following the “starting pistol” decision. Director of the EDA Claude-France Arnould admitted that the “constrained financial situation” meant sovereign states were forced to go “searching for synergies”.

Meanwhile, French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke of a “club of drone-using countries”, adding: “If Europe hopes to maintain a strategic capability, countries must pool their capacities and actions in a pragmatic way.” The programme is likely to become a hot topic in the corridors of power in Brussels as the European Union gears up for a defence summit in December.

A second grouping – consisting of Austria, Belgium, Britain, and the Czech Republic – indicated that it would be open to investing in the technology although the collective was unsure about the validity of a full European military programme. In July, European Commissioner for the Internal Market Michel Barnier voiced his support for the use of pan-European drones as a way of reasserting the continent’s strategic independence following the United States spying revelations.

Critics of military drones include American polymath Professor Noam Chomsky. He once labelled the US drone programme as “a global assassination campaign”. However, President Barack Obama has insisted that the strategy is achieving enduring success in disrupting the networks of terrorist groups.

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