European Union countries should encourage their defence industries to specialize production and then pool resources in order to boost the bloc's security capabilities, French Defence Minister Herve Morin told his colleagues on Thursday, reported dpa.
"If we are talking about a European defence industry, we must accept the idea that not everybody is doing the same thing as everybody else," Morin said at an informal meeting of EU defence ministers in Deauville, France.
"For example, we could do some work in France and other work elsewhere, and then pool together," he added.
Experts say governments' keenness to protect their national manufacturers has always posed a major obstacle to the development of a truly European defence industry.
But there was growing evidence in Deauville that EU leaders were growing to the idea that more could be done together, particularly at a time of economic slowdown.
One example is the A400M military transport aircraft, whose components are currently being built by the Airbus consortium in six different countries: Belgium (flaps), Britain (flaps and outer wing box), France (nose fuselage, rudder), Germany (fuselage), Spain (tail) and Turkey (ailerons and spoilers).
However, production has fallen behind, and its delivery may now take place two years later than originally scheduled, according to reports.
Morin said half a dozen EU countries had expressed support for a French-British initiative designed to modernize helicopters, while progress was registered on common projects involving aircraft carriers, minesweeping and space observation.
"We have made progress on everything," Morin said.
In Deauville, a majority of EU countries also backed French plans for an exchange programme involving young military officers.
Inspired by the Erasmus students exchange programme, it would see officers from one member state spend some time training in another European country.
The project also aims to increase cooperation between military colleges in order to improve interoperability and mould a common European defence culture, Morin said.
However, some ministers expressed concern that such a programme could turn into a one-way travelling system, whereby officers from poorer member states would be seeking to spend time in some of Europe's best colleges, and few French or Germans wanting to train in countries like Romania or Bulgaria.