1st Oct 2023

EU plans to jointly invest in defence capabilities

  • EU countries need to refill their stockpiles, get rid of Soviet-era weapons and strengthen air capabilities, the EU Commission found (Photo: Yarden Sachs)
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The EU Commission has proposed for member states to jointly spend on defence capabilities to decrease fragmentation and duplication as the bloc faces Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The commission on Wednesday (18 May) put forward its assessment of "investment gaps" on defence capabilities — after EU leaders asked them to screen defence spending when they met in Versailles back in March.

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"Persistent underspending and lack of cooperation have resulted in critical defence capability shortfalls," the commission document pointed out.

"We need to spend together and better," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said.

The proposal for the EU to buying arms and military capabilities jointly fits into the efforts by the bloc to buying vaccines together and plans to buy gas together.

"By buying together, EU countries can get a better deal," commission vice-president Margarethe Vestager told reporters on Wednesday.

Borrell said there is "fragmentation and duplication" everywhere in the EU.

He pointed out that while the US has one type of tank, there are 12 different types of tanks in the EU, which increases logistical costs, and lacks interoperability.

"We need to know what equipment we have, where to prioritise investments, and how to coordinate among one another," Vestager said.

She added that in the last 20 years EU countries have increased defence spending by 20 percent, while at the same time Russia increased spending by 300 percent, and China by 600 percent — albeit from different starting levels.

EU countries are set to increase their defence budgets by close to €200bn so far in the coming years, the commission said.

The commission has talked about a "wake up call" in the shadow of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Since the euro crisis, there has been a "silent process of disarmament", Borrell said.

The commission has said it would invest €500m over two years for joint procurement in cases where at least three member states decide to buy together.

As the EU is facing an increased threat from Russia, it also needs to refill its stocks after several member states have supplied weapons to Ukraine in its fight with Russia.

Another goal is to phase out existing Soviet-era weapons systems still in use within EU member states. Reinforcing air and missile defence systems is also a short-term aim for the bloc.

In 2020, only 11 percent of investment was spent collaboratively, below the 35-percent benchmark agreed by EU governments previously.

In the meantime, Finland and Sweden have said they will buy portable firearms and anti-tank weapons together.

The two countries will step up their cooperation in defence procurement by Finland joining an agreement to acquire anti-tank weapons from Swedish weapons maker Saab Dynamics.

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the Nato alliance on Wednesday, a decision sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

There has been objections raised by Turkey but most Nato member support the two Nordic countries joining the alliance.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said he thought the issues could be resolved.

"We are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions," Stoltenberg said.

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