EU called on to increase military spending
Greece, which currently holds the EU Presidency on Defence due to Denmark's opt-out, has called on the EU member states to increase their defence spending so that the EU would be able to have a Rapid Reaction Force which is autonomous from the US.
Speaking in the European Parliament on Wednesday, Greek Defence minister Yiannos Papantoniou said the EU needs to look at the defence budget.
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"We need to look at the defence budgets and have framework decisions taken at Council levels, so that there would be set guidelines during Ecofin Councils. Technical procedures could also be put in place, so that defence spending will not threaten the Stability and Growth Pact," Mr Papantoniou said.
Finalising European Capabilities Action Plan
The European Council is at the moment finalising its European Capabilities Action Plan, where it is being identified which shortcomings the EU has in military set-up whilst re-examining the particular interests of each member state. Although the Greek Defence Minister wants this process to be finished off by the November General Affairs Council, it appears that there would be still out-standing issues until further meetings in April and May 2003.
France's government, however, on Wednesday approved a six-year plan to boost military spending, in a drive to narrow the gap between the French and UK armed forces and advance European defence co-operation in a world dominated by the US.
EU wants its own autonomous force
The proposed Rapid Reaction Force of 60,000 is supposed to be ready for peacekeeping and humanitarian operations by the end of 2003. However, many of the resources regarded as essential to make the force work are still not available.
UK Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden expressed doubts as to whether there is a need for the EU to embark on its own defence structure. Yiannos Papantoniou however believes that the EU should take a stronger role. "The EU should not give the impression that Americans are leading", the Greek Defence minister said, saying that the EU should equip itself with its own military capabilities. Mr Papantoniou said that the Rapid Reaction Force should be independent of Nato forces, although co-operation would still be maintained.
Next stage will be a Common European Defence
"We need an autonomous and self-sufficient defence system for the Union. The next stage will be a Common European defence." Papantoniou also advocated the need of a European defence industry. His calls were mirrored by the French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie. As reported in the Financial Times, although she acknowledged there was no chance that Europe would begin to match US weapons spending, she said that "what's important is that we have the means for autonomy of decision and of action."