28th Mar 2023


Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

  • EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Ukraine president Volodomyr Zelensky: the EuU and member states actually contributed slightly more to Ukraine than the US did last year (Photo: European Commission)
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Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds. And most definitely, they should not fall behind the United States. Such has been the chorus since the start of the war, primarily on the other side of the Atlantic.

The problem is: the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.

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  • Between secrecy at the member state level, and incomprehensible acronyms from Brussels, it has been a challenge for Americans, US Congress first of all, to get a clear grasp of Europe's contributions (Photo: Wikipedia)

Let's look at the numbers: the European Union and its member states actually contributed slightly more to Ukraine than the US did last year.

US contributions approximated €48bn through 20 November, while commitments from the EU and its member states reached close to €52bn.

These included €34.7bn in financial support, which covered €17bn for Ukrainian refugees, €11.7bn in military assistance, and €5.4bn in humanitarian aid. These are numbers collected by Germany's Kiel Institute on the World Economy, which has tracked contributions to Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion. It found that Europe surpassed the US relatively late in the year.

The economic fallout from the war also disproportionately impacted Europeans.

Sanctions imposed on Moscow severely hurt European businesses. The US is further away and less affected. Europeans also had to weather an energy crisis unseen in decades, forcing governments to pass massive relief packages.

Of course, the burden sharing debate is complicated and depends on what you include.

If you remove refugee costs from European contributions, suddenly, the balance tilts irredeemably towards the US. Of course, to a European, particularly one living in Poland or the Czech Republic, where Ukrainian refugees currently represent more than four percent of the national population, this omission would seem off-putting at best.

Europeans must recognize that the term "burden sharing" touches a raw nerve in Washington. Within Nato, it has been a longstanding issue. Europeans have been good at announcing defence commitments, less so on following through on them.

And on military aid, the discrepancy between Europe and the US is significant: Ukraine fires between 5,000 and 7,000 artillery rounds per day, an amount no European industry can match.

Washington plans to increase production from 14,000 rounds per month to 20,000 by the spring, which would still only cover less than a week of Ukraine's needs. That's what the entire French army ordered between 2015 and 2020 for its Caesar howitzers.

The US is the only country with the capability to lead here.

Europe's immediate strengths lie elsewhere.

The EU is endowed by its member states with the financial resources necessary to conduct continent-wide cohesion policies and promote regional development. Within weeks of Russia's invasion, the EU was able to identify €17bn from its cohesion fund which could quickly be allocated to help member states provide Ukrainian refugees with housing, education, and health care. Brussels also encouraged member state capitals to reallocate previously distributed cohesion funds by permitting the transfer of resources between approved programs.

American incomprehension

For Americans to recognise these contributions, Europeans need to be more transparent and find simple ways to communicate them. Between secrecy at the member state level, and incomprehensible acronyms from Brussels, it has been a challenge for Americans, US Congress first of all, to get a clear grasp of Europe's contributions.

More than anything, it is time to drop the 'tit-for-tat' mentality.

The transatlantic relationship has historically worked best when both sides of the Atlantic co-owned a project. Given relative strengths and weaknesses, joint ownership should not be mistaken for an equal one. Instead, asymmetries are unavoidable and even desirable.

The United States should drive the security assistance; Europe should lead the reconstruction. As time passes, Europe will be expected to take an ever-larger share of the burden given Ukraine's aspiration to become a member of the EU. Let's not forget: as a neighbour, EU countries will also reap most of the benefits from a thriving Ukraine.

The latest announcements seem to confirm this positive trend. Most (or even all) of Ukraine's immediate budgetary needs in 2023 will be covered. That includes an €18bn package by the EU, announced by in December.

Delivered in monthly instalments, these funds also include "initial support towards sustainable post-war reconstruction," suggesting more will follow.

Delivered in the form of heavily-subsidised loans with maturities going up to 35 years, these funds are a clear demonstration that Europeans are committed to Ukraine long-term. The US announced its own $45-billion package [€41.3bn], but in the context of a split Congress, its funds will be allocated on a need-basis.

While the EU Commission has successfully secured aid for 2023, it is still unclear how Europe will raise the required funds for Ukraine's longer-term reconstruction. The conversation about funding sources has not even started. It ought to. It would make future budget negotiations on Capitol Hill easier. If handled with care and foresight, burden sharing can end up in a virtuous cycle.

The upcoming EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev should be used to send such a signal.

Author bio

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a distinguished scholar, James H. Sallembien a research assistant at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.


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

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