Monday

30th Jan 2023

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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."

Opinion

Why the new ECHR Ukraine-Russia ruling matters

The ECHR ruled that Russia was in "effective control" of separatist regions of Eastern Ukraine from 11 May 2014. In doing so, the court has formally acknowledged the inter-state character of the conflict and Russia's culpability for human rights abuses.

Latest News

  1. Pressure mounts on EU to coordinate visas for Russian rights-defenders
  2. Dutch set to agree to US-led chip controls to China
  3. No record of Latvian MEP's 'official' Azerbaijan trip
  4. Why the new ECHR Ukraine-Russia ruling matters
  5. Europe continues to finance Russia's war in Ukraine with lucrative fossil fuel trades
  6. Official: EU parliament's weak internal rule-making body leads to 'culture of impunity'
  7. Red tape border logjam for EU's 1.3m 'frontier workers'
  8. Greece's spy scandal must shake us out of complacency

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  2. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  3. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  4. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  2. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  3. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  5. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  6. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us