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Speech by Executive Vice-President Vestager at the press conference on the Action Plan on synergies between civil, defence and space industries

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op maandag 22 februari 2021.

Today we have adopted our first ever action plan on synergies between civil, defence and space industries.

As the global race for technological leadership is accelerating, this action plan aims to strengthen Europe's technological edge, and support its industrial base.

It covers three priorities:

First: build new synergies among EU programmes and instruments so that disruptive technologies can find concrete uses across civil, defence and space industries;

Second: enable that defence and space technologies find concrete civil applications;

Third: facilitate the use of civil research and innovations into new European defence projects.

After working on ejector seats in fighter jets, Swedish mechanical engineer Nils Ivar Bohlin designed a new three-point seat belt for a European car company. Inspired by the four-point harness that jet pilots used, the three-point seat belt was developed and became a global standard in the car industry, saving over one million lives. More recently, new technologies developed to improve the analysis of satellite earth images are used to conduct early diagnosis of bladder cancer.

Those are a few examples to show what this Action Plan is all about: pulling together the strengths of civil, defence and space to boost innovation and deliver concrete societal benefits.

This is nothing new. For a long time we have seen technologies cross bridges between civil, space and defence. We have seen radio waves used in military labs end-up in kitchen ovens. And Velcro fasteners initially developed for daily clothes end-up in spaceships to hold objects against zero-gravity.

But this is a new endeavour for the European Union. For the first time, we will have substantial EU funding available for defence and related civilian technologies. This will allow us to build a systematic approach to create synergies across the defence, space and civil worlds. So that innovations can reach multiple uses, by design instead of by coincidence.

To do this, we start with the technology. We put all three sectors together - space, civil, defence - and ask ourselves: how can we make this technology relevant across those fields? How can we make smart use of this increased EU funding to make one innovation reach multiple uses for a wider benefit?

To answer this, we have come up with a new methodology, which starts with the identification of critical technologies relevant across the defence, space and civil industries. For instance Artificial Intelligence, smart sensors, quantum technologies or high-definition earth observation systems. We will update this list every second year.

The second step in our methodology is to develop roadmaps for the critical technologies. The roadmaps list the necessary steps to take a technology from its inception to its application. This includes securing relevant EU funding and finance opportunities, targeting wider socio-economic needs, and bringing together all stakeholders, such as government, industry, academia and civil society. Each roadmap will have a specific horizon, milestones and a final aim.

As a third step, we take things to reality by applying these technologies in tangible projects. Today we launch three flagship projects: on drone technologies, a new space communications system and on Space Traffic Management. Each should lead to improvements such as better access to high-speed connectivity for everyone in Europe, a more resilient connectivity system in case of large-scale cyber-attacks or new standards to avoid collisions into space.

In addition to this new methodology and projects, this action plan includes additional support actions. Let me name a few.

In the second half of this year, we will equip start-ups, small and medium sized companies, as well as research and technology organisations with tools to facilitate their entry into the defence, security, or space markets. For instance, we will develop an Artificial Intelligence tool to help companies navigate the maze of EU funding and find the best instrument to match their needs.

We will set up a capability-driven approach in the field of internal security and law enforcement. This means that we will identify which are the technologies that our authorities - for instance, law enforcement, border guards or customs officials - will need to do their job. We will do this in a coordinated manner across Europe.

As a result, European industry and innovators will be able to develop the technologies that our authorities really need. In doing so we can reduce strategic dependencies and facilitate compliance with European data protection and ethical standards.

Through all these actions, we want to tap into the huge innovation potential that exists throughout our Union. We will offer funding opportunities to researchers and start-ups that have great ideas, but may not yet be aware of their potential application outside their traditional sectors. This is what cross-fertilisation is all about.

To conclude, this action plan is an integral part of our broader agenda for Europe.

It meets our Industrial Strategy's objective to increase cross-sector synergies.

It also supports our broader ambition to boost job creation and innovation in small and medium sized companies, at a time when we need it so much. In fact, just like the Velcro fasteners, many innovations were created in small labs or boutique shops.

By creating new outlets for technologies and connecting companies across sectors, the action plan also contributes to achieving the ambition of our Single Market.

And most importantly as we face a global race for technological lead, it represents one step further towards our open strategic autonomy. With the action plan, we open up the opportunity for cooperation with partners who are already active in these areas.

In fact, against global economic and security concerns, the EU has pledged to develop a common transatlantic approach to protecting critical technologies and working on technology, trade and standards. The transatlantic partnership and cooperation with other like-minded countries can support European efforts in this area.

Because Europe has all it takes to become a technological leader: the ambition, the talents, the companies and the funding. This plan bring all those elements together across the civil, defence and space industries. So that in the coming years, more ground-breaking European innovations can become true worldwide standards. Just like the three-point seatbelt.

I will now leave it the floor to Thierry.

Thank you.


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