On 30 November 2021, more than 150 experts and entrepreneurs participated in a webinar titled SMEs & Defence Initiatives: Unlocking Opportunities & Overcoming Challenges (SMEs), organized under the auspices of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU by the European Defence Agency (EDA), the Slovenian Business & Research Association (SBRA) and the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Slovenia.
Conference participants were first addressed by State Secretary at the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Slovenia Uroš Lampret, and EDA Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý. State Secretary Lampret emphasized that Europe’s defence is facing a number of threats, but also some excellent opportunities for greater autonomy and strengthening of its strategic industrial base. In this respect, the SMEs capable of rapid adaptation and innovation play an extremely important role. This is a way for even smaller member states that are not defence superpowers to make an important contribution to the common European security and defence. Moreover, even more current initiatives such as PESCO, the Strategic Compass, the European Defence Fund, and innovation initiatives promoting the involvement of small and medium-sized enterprises, can have a significant economic impact. He also expressed satisfaction that Slovenia has been actively involved in these initiatives and is already benefiting from the many advantages of international defence cooperation. EDA Chief Executive Director Jiří Šedivý highlighted the strategic framework and the importance of involving SMEs in defence initiatives. He also brought attention to the new initiatives related to building up innovation, also in the context of the Strategic Compass.
The webinar hosted a number of interesting and important speakers from European institutions, ministries, companies and associations. A series of presentations was followed by a lively roundtable discussion. The representative of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Slovenia and Slovenian EDA Research and Technology Director Dr Larisa Pograjc emphasized the importance of good informing of SMEs, stable funding, advantages of cooperation with professional associations, trust, and the establishment of a supportive ecosystem within the ministries which would be able to support these initiatives. Dr Auke Venema, EDA Research and Technology Director from the Netherlands, presented the experience of SME integration and innovations, while two Airbus representatives outlined the possibilities and importance of including SMEs in the large defence industry.
The seminar revealed some of the challenges, addressed a number of opportunities, and contributed to even better integration within future defence consortia.