(Bloomberg) -- Europe’s leaders are putting their citizens at risk if they don’t facilitate deals and accords to tighten the region’s defense industry, Leonardo SpA Chief Executive Officer Roberto Cingolani said.

“If Europe doesn’t come together in the defense business, it won’t be able to guarantee security,” Cingolani said in an interview on Bloomberg’s Italian-language podcast, Quello Che i Soldi Non Dicono. 

“Even big countries like Italy, Germany, France and the UK can’t counter global threats like the Ukraine war by themselves,” said Cingolani, who served as a minister in Italy’s previous government led by Mario Draghi. 

Many of Europe’s NATO members have lagged behind in terms of military funding. In 2014, when Russia first invaded Ukraine, NATO allies set a target requiring members to spend at least 2% of their national GDP on defense. A decade later, just over half of NATO’s 32 member states have achieved that goal. 

But even with spending commitments in place, the structure of the European defense sector remains problematic. A fragmented industry creates inefficiencies in allocations for defense projects, Cingolani said, rendering European Union-based companies less competitive and weakening the bloc’s ability to respond to threats and crises.

“If Europe doesn’t start thinking as a united continent, it will end up being crushed by China, Russia and the US,” Cingolani said. “The US is our ally but they have a global dimension in investment that 27 European countries can’t match if they are divided, even though the bloc’s budget is not that different from America’s,” Cingolani said in the interview, conducted before European Union elections over the weekend.

Cingolani has underscored the importance of agreements across the sector to improve efficiency, citing as an example Europe’s 30 platforms split between countries whose combined spending on them averages around €110 billion ($120 billion) per year. By comparison the US spends about $250 billion annually on 12 platforms. 

The 62-year-old was named in 2023 to run the state-controlled defense firm, and during his tenure — shaped by the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East — the company’s market value has ballooned to around €14 billion, still a fraction of the size of US contractors like Lockheed Martin Corp.

 

Cyber threats have increased awareness about security for a new generation of Europeans who might otherwise be skeptical about defense, Cingolani said. 

“If we don’t defend ourselves from ‘invaders,’ we risk that our devices won’t work, we can’t use social networks, we won’t have gasoline,” Cingolani said, pointing to “devastating consequences hitting our lives and basic rights, which we took for granted would last forever.”

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