27th Jan 2022

EU spends record €198bn on defence in 2020

  • There is still not enough joint procurement among member states, despite a 2017 promise to improve this (Photo:
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EU countries spent their highest-level ever recorded on defence in 2020, the European Defence Agency (EDA) said in a report published on Monday (6 December).

In 2020, the total defence spending in the EU stood at €198bn, a five-percent increase on 2019, making it the most spent on defence in the bloc since the EU agency keeps track of it since 2006.

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According to the report, 19 member states increased their overall spending last year, with six countries spending over 10 percent. (Denmark opted out of EU military projects, so its data is not included in the EDA report.)

The EDA, the agency which helps the bloc's governments to develop their military capabilities, said defence expenditure amounted to 1.5 percent of the 26 EU states' economic output.

The US has pushed European countries for a two-percent spending goal within Nato, as most EU members are part of the military alliance.

Several EU governments have pushed for more sovereign defence policy and stronger EU military capabilities as Britain, a nuclear power, has left the EU, and the US has been increasingly inward looking or turning towards Asia.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn has not impacted military spending.

"Whereas member states' GDP decreased by six percent in 2020, defence expenditures resisted the economic pressure so far," the report said.

"Despite this positive trend, the long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on defence budgets remains unclear at this stage," the EDA added.

Less collaborative spending

However, EU countries spent less on collaborative defence spending. In 2020, countries spent a total of €4.1bn on the joint procurement of new equipment, a decrease of 13 percent compared to 2019, the third-lowest value recorded by the agency.

EDA data also showed that since 2016 there has been "significant reduction" in European collaborative defence equipment procurement.

EU member states last year spent just 11 percent of their total equipment procurement in cooperation with other EU governments, falling short of the 35 percent collective benchmark set in an EU defence pact signed in 2017 to pool resources.

The agency noted that when buying equipment, EU governments mainly did deals on their own.

The EDA chief executive, Jiří Šedivý, called the trend "particularly concerning".

Nevertheless, EU countries have spent at least 20 percent of their defence investment as a percentage of their total defence expenditure, with 14 member states allocating even more.

In 2020, countries also spent a record amount on research and technology, amounting to €2.5bn, a 46-percent increase compared to 2019.

The increase was driven by France and Germany, which together are responsible for more than 90 percent of the increase in research and tech.

But the investment in defence research also lacks collaboration, according to EDA.

"The defragmentation of the European defence capability landscape can only be achieved through a parallel increase in European cooperation, helping member states to procure their military equipment more efficiently," the report warns.

Despite the lack of coordination, the EU still plans a joint military force of up to 5,000 troops by 2025 to intervene in different crises and without relying on the US.

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