When talking about strengthening EU defence, Brussels means business – POLITICO

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A new plan to coordinate increased military spending among EU members is not just about strengthening Europe’s defences, it’s also about boosting its defense industries.

As governments across Europe increase defense budgets in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the race is on to see who will benefit from the extra billions of euros that are suddenly up for grabs.

In many cases, it boils down to a simple question: buy American or European?

While insisting the EU remains open to global competition, officials made it clear on Wednesday that a set of European Commission proposals on defense investment also aim to tip the balance in favor of industries local.

Presenting the plan in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell noted that Europe buys around 60% of its military capabilities from outside the bloc, saying: “It’s too much. We must reduce our dependence on the outside world.

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said that “we must indeed ensure that these investments, financed by European taxpayers… first and foremost benefit European industry wherever possible”.

One of the objectives of this plan is to get European governments to work together on joint purchases by offering financial incentives to do so. Borrell and the Commission said in a joint communication to other EU bodies that they aim to get countries to invest “together” “better” and “European”.

The plan could face its toughest test among EU member governments, some of whom have been wary of such proposals in the past, believing they were primarily designed to boost France’s defense industry – the largest of the block. The proposals are also in line with French President Emmanuel Macron’s desire for European “strategic autonomy” — making the EU more capable of acting independently on the world stage in a wide range of areas, including defence.

“The idea is to buy more Europeans… also French to a large extent,” said a diplomat.

Although EU treaties prohibit the bloc from using its budget for military operations, officials insist the proposal is legally valid as it focuses on issues such as supply and industrial development.

Officials who have long advocated a more integrated approach to European defense procurement argue that the current continental market is too fragmented. While the United States has only one type of battle tank, the EU has 12, they note. They fear that the rush to spend more on defense will lead to even greater fragmentation.

One of the ideas in the package is a joint defense procurement task force, to be set up by the Commission and Borrell, to work with member states and focus on coordination to avoid a race for control , “which would cause prices to spike. ”

The budget does not match the ambition

The Commission is offering €500 million over two years to support these joint arms purchases, while calling on the European Investment Bank to step up its support for the continent’s defense industry.

This figure, the diplomats noted, is very low compared to the level of ambition. A single French Dassault Rafale fighter jet, for example, costs around $115 million.

Officials insist that the program is only a pilot project and they hope that its funding can be increased in the near future.

But it looks like there will be plenty of cash coming from national budgets. The war prompted many EU governments to announce increases in defense spending, amounting to an additional €200 billion “in the years to come”, according to the Commission.

In addition, many EU governments – especially in Eastern Europe – have sent their stockpiles of Soviet-era weapons to Ukraine, meaning they are now on the market to replenish their arsenals. with modern weapons and equipment.

A big question now is who is profiting from the coming military buying spree – and how much of it goes from Europe to the US defense giant, especially as many governments view US buying as a means of also buying additional military protection in Washington.

Officials insist that outside countries have long been allowed to participate in EU defense projects, citing the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) pact established in 2017 with 25 EU member states. In 2021, the United States joined a PESCO military mobility project that aims to move troops more quickly across Europe.

“We don’t rule out the participation of third countries…there are rules” for such participation, a senior EU official said. But the official also warned that Europe should not be too dependent on external suppliers.

“We need security of supply, this is key for all Member States. We must also have the freedom to act. We cannot depend on any geographical destination,” the official said.

However, many officials have pointed out that without a common foreign policy, the freedom to act militarily remains largely theoretical for the EU.

“The construction of a common defense must be accompanied by a united foreign policy and effective decision-making mechanisms,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi recently declared to the European Parliament.


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