Thursday

28th May 2020

EU defence bravado criticised by auditors

  • The Libya conflict in 2010 highlighted EU military shortfalls (Photo: US Department of Defence)

The EU's new defence budget might achieve little and loose talk of a joint army could do harm, a European watchdog has warned.

The EU recently agreed to spend €13bn in the coming seven years on joint procurement and R&D.

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That, together with other new projects, represents a 22-fold increase on defence spending in the previous budget.

The changes are being described as a big bang on the way to European "strategic autonomy" by EU officials.

They are also being called the nucleus of a future "European army" by some politicians.

But in reality, "there is a risk that adequate goals may not have been set and proper systems may not be in place to accommodate such an increase in EU spending," according to the European Court of Auditors, an EU financial watchdog based in Luxembourg.

The budget hike might have "no real impact on the competitiveness of the European defence industry," it added in a report on Thursday (12 September).

The fact the European Commission and the European Parliament will both have a say on the money is a problem because EU nations are used to making military decisions quickly and independently, the auditors said.

And the fund might simply end up subsidising big defence firms in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden, or the galaxy of small ones in other member states, the auditors warned.

At the same time, "political declarations about the creation of a European army are ambiguous and unrealistic," Thursday's report noted.

They may have "raised expectations that the EU may not be able to meet," and could be "counter-productive to relations and cooperation with Nato" and with the US, Europe's principal security provider, the watchdog said.

EU countries "do not share a common perception of threats ... have different institutional frameworks with different rules of engagement, and a wide range of views on the use of military force," the report said.

Some want help to defend them against Russia, while others want help on crises in Africa, and "ultimately, they do not share a common vision on the role of the EU," in military terms, it added.

On top of that, few of them would be willing to surrender control of their militaries to a central command because defence was "a strong and essential symbol" of "national sovereignty".

"The lack of a common strategic culture or shared vision of the use of force ... makes it unlikely that member states could reach a consensus to deploy military forces for high-spectrum interventions," the report said.

Talk of an EU army has been around since the 1950s.

But this is why all previous use of joint force "did not take place under the EU banner, but rather on national grounds or under ad-hoc coalitions," Thursday's report said.

EU shortfalls

Meanwhile, even if EU states overcame those obstacles, their joint resources would fall far short of what was needed for territorial defence.

The 28 EU states spend €200bn a year on their armies.

That is second only to the US and more than China or Russia.

They have more tactical aircraft, battle tanks, armoured infantry vehicles, and warships than Russia when counted together.

But a lot more of their funds are spent on paying soldiers decent wages than investing in weapons.

And the Libya conflict showed they lacked the kind precision-guided munitions, air-to-air refuelling, and surveillance and reconnaissance systems needed to conduct a serious assault.

"Assuming a hypothetical scenario of a limited regional war in Europe against a third state" EU countries would have to invest between €261bn to €323bn "to fill the capability gaps" they would have without the US, the auditors said, citing previous studies.

All that is before you take Britain, the EU's top defence spender, out of the equation due to Brexit.

And the auditors' maths makes the new EU defence budget look small.

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