Sunday

19th Jan 2020

Better defence spending needed to back up EU 'principles'

  • The EU spends its defence money too inefficiently, says the EU commission (Photo: SHAPE)

Europe needs to make better use of dwindling defence budgets if it is to properly take care of military problems in its own backyard as the US orients itself towards Asia, the EU commission said Wednesday.

In an ideas paper meant to feed into an EU leaders defence summit in December, the commission noted that Washington is "rebalancing its strategic focus towards Asia" while the recent Libya war highlighted European military "shortfalls."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

"We will not have the weight we need in the world without a common defence policy. To support it, we need to strengthen our defence and security sector," said EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

"We need to be able to back up our positions of principle with security and civilian missions that can help stabilize the situation in crisis areas around the world," he added.

EU states between them have about 1.6 million soldiers and spend €194 billion annually on defence - but this strength is diluted by overlapping capacities and spending at a national level.

Spending is down from €251 billion in 2001, while defence R&D spending declined by 14 percent between 2005 and 2010, to €9bn.

The commission points out that the US spends seven times more on research and development than all 28 member states put together.

Russia and China, for their part, are expected to double their defence spending by 2015 when compared to 2011.

"We want to support the defence industry for economic reasons but also for defence reasons," said industry commissioner Antonio Tajani.

But the commission is almost entirely bound by member states political will in this area, with governments often reluctant to share defence technology or pool resources.

This is exacerbated by a reluctance to let the EU commission muscle in on an area where it has no legal powers.

Meanwhile the EU only has a few serious military powers - predominantly the UK and France - while most of its states also have commitments to Nato. On top of this, some countries, such as Ireland, are neutral.

Much of the commission paper's suggestions reflect this complexity.

They focus on ensuring that defence-related legislation is being properly implemented, that member states are not abusing state aid rules to benefit national defence industries and that defence companies will have better access to EU funding.

A key proposal, says the commission, is standardisation. Its paper notes that most standards are civilian but when military standards are required, "they are developed nationally, hindering co-operation and increasing costs for the industry." Lack of common standarisation means armies cannot easily share equipment.

The commission also says it plans to make armies more energy efficient.

"I don't think this (proposal) is modest. It demonstrates a real will to progress," said Michel Barnier, internal market commissioner, reacting to suggestions that the paper amounts to little more than a repetition of what the commission has been asking of member states in defence for several years.

The paper is due to be discussed by EU leaders at their traditional December summit. The commission will then make a roadmap with "concrete actions and timelines."

Agenda

Davos and Libya in focus This WEEK

The all-powerful will meet in Davos after Berlin tries to resolve the Libyan conflict over the weekend, while MEPs will set the stage for final ratification of the Brexit deal.

China spy suspect worked for EU for 30 years

The former EU ambassador suspected by German prosecutors of spying for China was Gerhard Sabathil, according to EU officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

News in Brief

  1. 'No objection in principle' on Huawei cooperation, EU says
  2. French aircraft carrier goes to Middle East amid tensions
  3. EU suggests temporary ban on facial recognition
  4. EU industry cries foul on Chinese restrictions
  5. 'Devil in detail', EU warns on US-China trade deal
  6. Trump threatened EU-tariffs over Iran, Germany confirms
  7. EU trade commissioner warns UK of 'brinkmanship'
  8. Germany strikes coal phase-out deal

Boost for Right in post-Brexit EU parliament

The far-right Identity and Democracy will overtake the Greens as the fourth-largest party in the European Parliament on 1 February, after the UK's MEPs vacate their seats.

Opinion

Why EU minimum wage is actually bad idea for workers

As president of one of the largest trade union confederations in the EU, I see the need for good working conditions and decent pay in all member states - but an EU-wide minimum wage could be used to lower wages.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us