Monday

23rd Sep 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

Merkel calls for 'real, true' EU army

Angela Merkel's much-anticipated speech to the European Parliament was brief and to the point. Her message: Europe is alone in the world, the EU should be more united on defence, but not on the economy.

Magazine

Ceci n'est pas une EU army

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini got tired of repeating the phrase "this is not … an EU army", but 2016 saw France and Germany leap forward on military integration.

Analysis

How should the EU handle Russia now?

Should West help Russian opposition in its struggle against the regime, or make new deals with Putin, as France is keen to do?

Central European leaders demand Balkan EU accession

Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia have demanded to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania this year, as Hungary's man prepares to take over the enlargement portfolio.

News in Brief

  1. Doubt cast on new Maltese inquiry into slain reporter
  2. March by Slovak Catholics seeks abortion ban
  3. 600,000 stranded on holiday as Thomas Cook collapses
  4. Egypt: hundreds of protesters arrested over weekend
  5. Global car industry fears no-deal Brexit shock
  6. France: de-escalation between US and Iran priority
  7. Spain demands UK 'reciprocity' on resident rights
  8. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us