A plan for the European Union to develop its own drone programme will be strongly opposed by David Cameron at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels today.
Seven EU nations have formed a “drones club” to produce the unmanned aircraft for civilian and military use by 2020. Their use by the United States against militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia has proved controversial because of civilian deaths.
EU leaders will discuss closer co-operation on defence but Mr Cameron will argue that national governments should remain in the driving seat and that any European integration should not undermine Nato. Pressure from Britain has already ensured that a proposal for “European armed forces” has been dropped from the draft conclusions.
France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Greece and Poland are backing a plan for joint production of drones, which could be used to strike military targets or for surveillance of boats carrying migrants towards Europe.
But a Downing Street source said: “There can be no question of the [European] Commission owning dual use military capabilities such as drones. Defence kit must be nationally owned and controlled and that should be clear to everyone.”
Brussels accused the UK of misrepresenting the plans. A spokesman said: “The European Commission has no intention to own or procure its own drones.”
* On a visit to Flanders, Belgium, today, Mr Cameron will announce £5m of new funding to conserve, repair and protect First World War memorials and graves across the UK and overseas where British and Commonwealth servicemen and women are buried.