Patrice Caine: "a new European defence project is urgent"
In an interview with the German economic weekly WirtschaftsWoche, Patrice Caine speaks about the challenges of increased European coordination in the defence sector, and the need to go beyond national interests alone. He takes the opportunity to recall what Thales is today: a global group deeply rooted in all the countries in which it is present.
Interview by Karin Finkenzeller, published in WirtschaftsWoche on February 23.
WirtschaftsWoche: Mr. Caine, for decades there has been talk about a defence union in Europe without tangible results. How do you rate the chances that this will change with the “permanent structured cooperation” (Pesco) passed in Brussels in November and the cooperation in the construction of a fighter jet announced by Berlin and Paris in the summer?
Patrice Caine: I think that we all agree that this project is urgent. When we look beyond Europe’s borders at countries with a meaningful defence industry it is apparent that European companies are disadvantaged when it comes to the distribution of market share. It is therefore a must for Europe to agree on defence matters one day - when exactly this will be we still need to talk about. In other words: If we don’t do it, we are condemned to be downgraded technologically and quantitatively.
How important is a political will for cooperation between companies?
These kinds of projects cannot be implemented without a strong political will. It is not true that companies hide behind politicians, but the defence industry is mainly driven by political decisions.
However, especially in defence matters countries shy away from surrendering their sovereignty.
Indeed. The logical consequence of such projects is that the interdependence of the countries has to be accepted. Whether you share a material or digital platform, be it a ship, a submarine, an aircraft, a satellite or a communication system. In the major European countries this acceptance does not yet exist today. This will only change once we move from intention to action. Recently we took the step from the intention to a declaration of intent. This is a necessary intermediate step. The step towards implementation is still missing.
In joint defence projects there always were friction and expensive technical problems in the past, such as with the A400M transport aircraft. France even left the Eurofighter consortium and developed its own fighter jet, the Rafale. How would this have to change this time in order to work?
For such complex projects to be successful the decisions must only be taken based on the capabilities of the companies. Otherwise you create industrial octopuses with cooperation programs which unacceptably exceed their time and cost frameworks. This not only weakens armies and companies but also undermines the credibility of the responsible politicians in the eyes of citizens and taxpayers.
Does this mean that the participating countries should not expect a piece of the defence cake in the form of orders for their domestic industry?
This aspect must not be excluded. In the view of politicians employment is as important as sovereignty. However, if you want to create a European defence policy, it is time to say goodbye to a purely national view of industry. The national pride in the domestic industry must be overcome and replaced by a new, European pride. This will not happen overnight. We still consider ourselves too much as French, German or Italian. Instead, we should be proud to be Europeans.
“...German in Germany and Australian in Australia”
Sure, Thales is a European and even a globally acting company. Thales is Polish in Poland, German in Germany and Australian in Australia. If Europe has the necessary technologies, European technology will need to be purchased. Today, if I want to buy a Patriot rocket or an F-16, these are produced in America. Period. This also highlights the contradictions of some European politicians. It does not make sense to state that you are in favour of a European defence policy but then buy products outside the borders of Europe which could have been developed in Europe.
Is this a criticism that the German air force apparently gives preference to American F-35 to close the gap between the decommissioning of old Tornado aircraft and the commissioning of the promised European fighter jet?
It is not the task of an industrial company to voice criticism. However, in my opinion it would contradict the political will publicly expressed last summer. Of course, it is nice that we buy from an ally, and we must be pleased to have allies. But if industrial and technological capacities are available in Europe, why do we look for them outside our borders? Other great nations don't do this. The USA never buys defence products abroad if it can manufacture them at home. China thinks the same. I think this is common sense that Europe should adopt.
Germany also has stricter rules for the export of defence products than France. The Treaty of 1972 by the then defence secretaries Helmut Schmidt and Michel Debré, according to which “neither of the two governments shall prevent the other government from exporting or permitting to be exported military weapons or other defence material resulting from a joint development or manufacture”, is obsolete. How should this be dealt with?
If we don’t manage to reinstate the Schmidt/Debré treaty, this will present an obstacle to cooperation. Our defence industries cannot survive and develop exclusively on the national markets. I have frequently faced the situation of the export of parts being blocked. If we don’t solve the problem, we shall never take the step for a declaration of intent to implementation.
Are you, given the risks, in favour of implementing a concrete defence cooperation with as many partners as possible? Or should the group be rather smaller?
Let’s be pragmatic. It is less complicated to start with two or three than with ten or twelve. Or with 28! Therefore, we should start with two or three. But keep the door open to become four or five or six tomorrow. But if we were to start with ten or twelve straight away, it is too complicated.
Will Thales achieve more or less turnover in a defence union?
With a European defence policy the good companies will be strengthened and the less good start doing something else. Viewed globally, this will advance the European industry. Today, natural selection does not take place, because national considerations take priority. For Thales it is a reality to think in European rather than national dimensions. If this were not the case, we could not strengthen our leading position.