It could have been a moment of triumph for Europe—a symbol of global relevance and power when it was most needed. Instead, the failed merger between continental European aerospace giant EADS and British BAE Systems, two of Europe’s largest defense companies, is an alarming sign of the increasing irrelevance of Europe.
The Financial Times has gathered opinions from defense industry experts, who are united in the belief that this will be a major setback for Europe:
“There had been a real hope in the US that this was a moment when Europeans could pool and share among themselves properly, overcoming duplication of effort and give real status in defence procurement. Americans I have spoken to are astonished that European leaders pulled the plug.”
“The EADS-BAE deal promised an industrial big bang that could have created real new perspectives for Europe as an actor in defence,” says Camille Grand, head of France’s Fondation Pour La Recherche Stratégique think-tank. “My fear is we are now right back to square one.”
Europe may only wake up to its declining capability when it faces an external shock where the US refuses to lead. “Historians will see the collapse of the EADS-BAE deal as a huge moment, a landmark in Europe’s decline,” says Dr Louth of RUSI. Mr Grand agrees: “More than ever, the big risk ahead is that Europe simply vanishes from the security map.”
This is indeed a massive wasted opportunity for Europe. Rather than take this golden opportunity to enmesh Britain in the European fold, France and Germany have driven it closer to its big Anglophone cousin across the ocean. Rather than leverage the UK’s ties to the Pentagon, continental Europe prefers to avoid the big leagues. And for all the statements about creating a company to represent a modern, integrated Europe, the busted deal has proven that national interests still reign supreme.
This time, it was Angela Merkel who wielded her power to block the merger, though she was hardly alone in setting up roadblocks to cooperation. The precise reasons for the collapse are still unclear, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that Europe is unprepared to reverse its slide into irrelevance.