4th Dec 2023


Weaponising Europe: Why EU should buy arms for its states

Listen to article

Wars have often been catalysts for new European defence initiatives.

In 1950, the launch of the Korean War and the fear of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe led to the French-inspired project of a fully integrated European army.

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

After the Cold War, European states' experience of the Western Balkans crises in Bosnia and Kosovo encouraged the birth of the EU common security and defence policy.

More recently, the 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia largely stimulated the process that led the European Commission of former president Jean-Claude Juncker to propose, in September 2016, the creation of a European Defence Fund (EDF), eventually adopted in 2021, aiming to finance defence research and development through the EU budget.

However, Article 41.2 of the EU treaty prohibits the use of the EU budget for defence expenditure; the EDF thus stops at the prototype stage, leaving the procurement phase to the sole responsibility of the member states.

Could the current Ukraine war turn a new page in European defence integration?

The EU defence white paper, the Strategic Compass, adopted on 24 March calls for a "quantum leap forward". If the EU is not bold and ambitious now, when will it be?

In the days following the Russian invasion, many national governments announced an increase in their defence budgets, starting with Germany.

This context represents a unique opportunity, as most member states will be purchasing new military equipment at the same time — in response to the same threat.

At the 10-11 March EU summit in Versailles, France, heads of state or government agreed not only to increase their defence investments but also to develop new incentives to stimulate joint procurement.

This is a crucial issue indeed. While the Russian army uses only one type of main battle tank, EU armies have 17 different models. This fragmentation increases production costs, undermines interoperability among European forces, and means division and weakness.

At a time when the EU is able to supply €1.5 billion of weapons to Ukraine, it is becoming ridiculous and anachronistic that it still refrains from financing weapons for its own member states.

In practice, the research and development components of the EDF should be complemented by an equivalent European Defence Acquisition Fund.

For example, defence acquisition projects would benefit from a 20 percent EU subsidy according to three eligibility criteria.

The first of these could be priority procurement: the project should correspond to a priority recognised by the EU or Nato in order to encourage member states to focus investments on key shortfalls.

The second criterion could be collaborative procurement: at least three member states should order the same equipment to promote interoperability among European forces and generate economies of scale.

And the last one would be European procurement: whenever possible, the equipment should be manufactured in Europe to promote the consolidation of a European defence technological and industrial base and the EU's strategic autonomy.

The current Franco-Belgian partnership for the joint acquisition of military land vehicles demonstrates that joint procurement can generate multiple spillover effects, leading not only to joint training programmes and joint exercises, but also to joint doctrine development.

Ultimately, joint procurement can be the starting point for true force integration.

Going further, the EU should consider not only subsidising member states' acquisitions but also acquiring its own military capabilities.

For example, the EU could finance the creation of joint European military bases (or Euro-Bases) and pre-position vehicles and stocks of equipment and ammunition there.

In central Europe, Euro-Bases would help strengthen the Union's defence and facilitate the rapid deployment and readiness of troops to the east in the event of a crisis.

In other strategic regions, they could be used to signal European presence and solidarity. While the French and Italians already have a base in Djibouti, a Euro-Base there could be the anchor of an ambitious EU Indo-Pacific strategy.

EU treaty

The main legal obstacle to these projects lies in Article 41.2 of the EU treaty, which prevents using the EU budget for defence expenditure.

A first option would be to use the European Peace Facility (EPF), the mechanism being used to finance the military equipment sent to Ukraine. As the EPF is off-budget, Article 41.2 would be fully respected.

To secure defence investments in the longer term, however, it would be useful to be able to draw on the EU budget — for example, through the Next Generation EU recovery plan funds.

This could be done — without going through a cumbersome treaty revision process — by activating Article 42.2.

This article provides that member states may, through a decision by the European Council ratified by national parliaments, establish a "common defence".

In this framework, it would be possible to specify the scope of Article 41.2 and explicitly authorise certain defence expenditures from the EU budget.

A decision by EU members to adopt a "common defence" would also send a very strong signal of cohesion and determination to Russia.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is the biggest blow to European security since the end of the Cold War. The EU's response must be commensurate with this challenge.

Author bio

Pierre Haroche is a research fellow in European security at the Institute for Strategic Research (IRSEM) in Paris.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Nato warns of Russian chemical weapons threat

Nato leaders have redoubled warnings for Russia not to use chemical weapons or worse in Ukraine. They also agreed to send 40,000 more troops to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.

EU plans to jointly invest in defence capabilities

EU countries need to refill stockpiles after several member states supplied weapons to Ukraine in its fight with Russia, and to phase out existing Soviet-era weapons systems, and reinforce air defence.

Why EU's €18m for Israel undermines peace

The optics of a nine-fold increase of annual funding for Israel, in the middle of its devastating military campaign in Gaza, stands in contrast with the attempted suspension, delaying and constraining of EU development aid for the Palestinians.

Dubai's COP28 — a view from the ground

Discussion of the biggest existential threat humanity has ever faced is barely mentioned on billboards or signage in Dubai — yet visitors are made aware quite quickly that t world rugby sevens tournament is imminent.

'Pay or okay?' — Facebook & Instagram vs the EU

Since last week, Mark Zuckerberg's Meta corporation is forcing its European users to either accept their intrusive privacy practices — or pay €156 per year to access Facebook and Instagram without tracking advertising.

My experience trying to negotiate with Uber

After working with people in unusual employment situations for a decade, I thought I had seen it all as a union organiser. Then I began dealing with Uber.

Latest News

  1. EU-China summit and migration files in focus This WEEK
  2. COP28 debates climate finance amid inflated accounting 'mess'
  3. Why EU's €18m for Israel undermines peace
  4. Israel's EU ambassador: 'No clean way to do this operation'
  5. Brussels denies having no 'concern' on Spain's amnesty law
  6. Dubai's COP28 — a view from the ground
  7. Germany moves to criminalise NGO search-and-rescue missions
  8. Israel recalls ambassador to Spain in new diplomatic spat

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  3. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  4. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  5. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  6. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  3. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  4. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us