The Association of Companies Contracting with Public Administrations (Aesmide) held its 20th annual Forum under the title "Challenges for the Spanish industry in the European defence framework", in which important representatives from the political and military spheres and from the industrial and technological base gave the keys to the important defence and security sector in Spain and Europe, especially at a time of uncertainty and tension such as the current one marked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the energy and economic crisis currently being experienced.
At the event, important issues related to international current affairs and public-private collaboration were presented and debated, especially in the field of defence and security. More than two years after the pandemic and in the midst of the current phase of economic recovery and the efforts made by the European Union (EU) to generate recovery funds, we now find a new global scenario that affects the defence, security, sovereignty and economy of nations.
In this scenario, public institutions and private companies must address a number of issues and topics to be resolved. In view of this, the Aesmide Forum analysed interesting issues such as European Defence, the importance of the integrated value chain, the position of the industry in the European defence field and the challenges in public procurement and financing. All of this through the participation of important personalities from politics, government, the business world and the military sphere.
Gerardo Sánchez Revenga, President of Aesmide, hosted a conclave that brought together relevant personalities, such as the Secretary of State for Defence, Amparo Valcarce, who opened the round of presentations under the slogan "Investment effort in the industrial and technological base of Defence", emphasising the "accelerated geopolitical revolution" and the crisis that is being experienced as a result of the war in Ukraine, which has "changed the strategic objectives".
Amparo Valcarce highlighted the increase in the defence budget of the government led by Pedro Sánchez, just at this time of uncertainty, instability and threat to security. The government's objective is to reach 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for defence by 2029, as Amparo Valcarce commented, highlighting that by 2023, 1.2% has already been budgeted for this purpose, which represents a "titanic effort". The Secretary of State said that the defence industry must respond to the current need for increased investment in defence, as currently demanded by society, which is contemplating the difficult panorama that currently exists. The Secretary of State also pointed out that the industrial and technological base must be "cutting-edge".
The objective is clear: "to strengthen the defence industrial sector", with a fluid relationship between the Administration and companies in the sector. Amparo Valcarce made it clear that "we must make defence policy a state policy", attaching great importance to the issue of security. The budget for the modernisation of the sector in Spain amounts to 4,902 million euros, which has generated an increase of more than 22,000 jobs. A budget increase of 28.5%, as the government representative recalled.
Amparo Valcarce did call for a greater European defence policy and highlighted the latest Strategic Compass concept implemented in the EU, which has led to an increase in investment in security. The Secretary of State also encouraged the Spanish defence industry and its companies to take advantage of the inertia of the Strategic Compass and the upcoming Spanish Presidency of the EU because of the opportunities they represent.
The Secretary of State for Defence also pointed out that the industrial policy of the Spanish Ministry of Defence boosts military and technological development and is key to the economic return it generates by creating jobs.
Next, it was the turn of Manuel Selas González, Deputy Director General for International Security Affairs of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, who gave the presentation "The future of the EU's support policy for the industrial base of defence". His presentation began by pointing out the origins of the common defence policy, marked by conflicts such as those in the former Yugoslavia, the war in Iraq and the transatlantic divides.
Manuel Selas indicated that the EU must be a global security actor and must have the means to do so, with a major defence industry being "necessary". The Administration's representative also pointed out that the 2016 Global Security Strategy boosted the defence industry, which is "essential" for the EU as a global actor. One of the challenges for the deputy director general is to "manage unity" in order to work together despite the fact that they may have different approaches. "In defence, you cannot go it alone," he stressed.
Manuel Selas also compared the European Strategic Compass with the Strategic Concept of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which is more established and has a structure that has been in place for several decades. Selas himself indicated that the objective now being set is to know which crises or conflicts to address, how to obtain the means to do so, and with whom the EU should go to confront these crises. The representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also stressed the importance of collaboration between the EU and NATO, which is fundamental for Spain, and highlighted the importance of the "new wave" of support for the industrial and technological defence base.
The Ministry's Deputy Director General for International Security Affairs also stated that supply and demand must be brought closer together, and stressed the need for information to circulate quickly on tenders and opportunities for Spanish companies to participate in the different proposals.
The European defence panorama was discussed at the next round table entitled "Challenges and prospects for defence in Europe", with the participation of retired Lieutenant General Juan Montenegro Álvarez de Tejera, Defence Advisor, who pointed out that there are business opportunities for the defence industry, provided that there is political will.
Juan Montenegro Álvarez de Tejera referred to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which he said has been planned for years, at least since 2014, and explained that the entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO out of fear of Russia is a failure of EU defence policy because both countries feel safer under the protection of the Atlantic Alliance. The lieutenant general also remarked that the EU needs the transatlantic link with the United States in order to be secure. On the other hand, he explained that Russia's motivations for the invasion have to do with NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe and Russia's need to feel like a world power and maintain its status.
Regarding the course of the war, Montenegro Álvarez de Tejera said that Ukraine has improved a great deal in terms of the defence of its airspace and electromagnetic space and with respect to its information campaign, which has made us all take up its cause. Furthermore, he said it is not clear that the US can convince Ukraine to negotiate, as the Ukrainian army is winning the war against the Russian army thanks to Western support in terms of military hardware and intelligence support, and they are now "on a roll".
The retired lieutenant general also indicated that the US strategy of a global alliance extending to the Indo-Pacific against China is now being put on hold by the war in Ukraine, which benefits the Chinese giant.
Juan Montenegro Álvarez de Tejera also pointed out that the conflict in Ukraine, where a significant part of the resources have gone, means that the future of the defence industry lies in Europe. "We need a European industry to supply and replenish what is destined for Ukraine," he explained.
Finally, he called for Italy and Spain to play a greater role in European defence policy in the face of the conflict between Germany and France, which are putting their interests first. It is these four countries, the most important in the EU after the departure of the United Kingdom, which must come to an agreement.
Afterwards, Gerardo Sánchez Revenga moderated the debate entitled "How to adapt to the new challenges", in which representatives of Defence, the Administration and the business sector linked to defence and security took part, such as Miguel Pardo González, Secretary of the State Public Procurement Advisory Board, Major General José Luis Sánchez Martínez, Director General of Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Defence, Carlos de Cos, CEO of FECSA, Josep Aracil, Director of Government and Public Services of INETUM, and David Ayala Galán, Director General of EINSA.
All agreed on the need for public-private collaboration to boost and strengthen the defence industry and supply the Spanish Armed Forces. However, they also highlighted the difficulties that exist in several European countries for Spanish companies to gain access to public tenders due to the existing obscurantism and the obstacles that suddenly arise despite complying with the established requirements. This is something that does not happen so much in Spain because it has a system that provides more guarantees when it comes to public contracting.
The event was brought to a close by José Ignacio Echániz, President of the Defence Committee of the Congress of Deputies, who began his speech by highlighting how much the war in Ukraine is affecting the country and the current need to strengthen security, reduce energy dependence and obtain greater economic sovereignty.
José Ignacio Echániz emphasised that Spain is persevering with the transatlantic link and positively highlighted the increase in the defence budget, which now accounts for 1.2% of GDP, a matter on which there is consensus between the government and the opposition.
The PP deputy said it was important to further modernise the Armed Forces and to continue investing in defence, which also generates highly qualified jobs. With figures currently reaching 176,000 jobs in the Defence sector.
José Ignacio Echániz stressed the importance of public-private collaboration and also called for greater outsourcing of less essential services in the search for greater competitiveness. He also spoke of deterrence, security and defence as the basis for protecting the nation and fulfilling EU commitments. "Spain must work towards strategic autonomy, which goes hand in hand with collaboration with the defence industry," Echániz said.