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27th Sep 2020

Doubts over using EU 'peace fund' to supply arms to Africa

  • The EU may soon have the means to buy guns for armies in Africa - amid worries some of them may end up on the black market (Photo: French ministry of defense)

Germany and France are pushing plans to set up a budget overseen by the EU to possibly purchase and supply lethal weapons to armies in places like Africa.

Discussed for the first time among ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday (27 November), the issue remains contentious among a handful of member states.

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First floated in June 2018 by the EU's foreign diplomacy branch, the EEAS, the so-called European Peace Facility will have a €10.5bn purse, but set outside the typical EU budget.

"It is an extra budget not only because these are expensive enterprises but because the rules existing governing the budgets of the EU do not allow for these kinds of operations," the EU's ambassador to the African Union Ranier Sabatucci told EUobserver last week.

But when asked what kind of safeguards are in place to prevent weapons from going to militias or the black market, a European Commission spokeswoman from the EEAS declined to respond.

"I will not discuss in detail how this proposal will look like," she said.

Black market

While the talks on Wednesday took place behind closed doors, EUobserver understands that significant doubts remain on whether provisions within the proposal allowing the purchase of lethal weapons for foreign armies should even be included.

Among the dissenters are Nordic liberal countries like Denmark. Malta and the Netherlands are also said to be opposed. Austria baulked, telling NGOs in a letter earlier this year that they share the same reservations when it comes to granting weapons and ammunition.

Ireland is also not entirely happy with the idea.

Sweden is said to be lukewarm but is not wholly opposed so long as certain safeguards are enshrined. It exported over a billion euros worth of military equipment last year.

A senior EU diplomat present at the meeting on Wednesday described the discussion as useful, noting that it was the first time they had a policy dialogue on the matter.

"Now is the time to look at where we can find compromises, so the idea was really to look at a few of the sectors and see where we can find common ground," she said.

She too refrained from going into detail, noting that negotiations are on-going and will continue in the upcoming EU presidency under Croatia.

The facility, set for launch in little over 12 months, and would be managed by the EU's incoming foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Borrell has been tasked by the incoming president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to make the EU more strategic and more assertive in external relations.

"You should seek to strengthen the Union's capacity to act autonomously and promote its values and interests around the world," she told him, in a mission letter.

The talks follow a helicopter collision in Mali earlier this week that killed 13 French soldiers.

France has since demanded EU governments send in special forces to the Sahel, an area spanning some five West African states, to support the some 4,500 French troops to fight jihadist groups.

Such military efforts have reportedly led to even greater conflict in places like Mali, where the French have been operating for the past five years.

The EU is already providing some funding, through a so-called African Peace Facility, to a collective force of around 5,000 soldiers from Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. Around €100m went to make it operational.

The African Peace Facility is itself funded from the European Development Fund, which is also separate from the general EU budget.

But it too will be phased out should the new European Peace Facility become operational in 2021 and along with it, open up possibility to provide the troops with weapons and ammunition.

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