08 May 2003 | Robin Parker
A call to protect the European defence industry is misguided because the European Union lacks a joined-up approach to procurement, a military expert has warned.
BAE Systems, Thales and EADS have written to EU governments demanding they buy from European companies in the same way that the US protects its own defence industry.
But the call came as France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg unveiled plans for a joint military planning system, which could widen divisions in Europe over defence.
Europe's defence budget is £27.6 billion, less than a third of the US's, and the contractors argue this makes it hard for Europe to be a credible player.
They want European governments to make buying from domestic firms a priority.
In their letter, the contractors say: "At the time of procurement, the protection of the European defence technological and industrial base should be as explicit a selection criteria as it is in the US with its own industry."
But Keith Hartley, director of the centre for defence economics at the University of York, rejected the move as protectionist.
"Procurement is still run largely along national lines and there remains no EU policy to protect a European defence industrial base," he said.
"The way forward must be to avoid protectionism. Europe should build up a competitive base and then encourage an open market that welcomes foreign competition."