Ukraine war pushes Brussels to break taboo with joint arms spending plan – POLITICO

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The European Commission is due to present a plan on Wednesday under which it would secure groundbreaking new defence roles by helping member states coordinate their rising military spending.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered a sweeping change in European defense policy, pushed Sweden and Finland to join NATO, and forced countries to increase military spending.exist historic shifteven Germany, long under fire for low NATO defense spending, has vowed to increase its military budget and opted to send heavy weapons Ukrainian troops at war with the Russians.

Faced with a remilitarized continent, officials and diplomats said Wednesday’s “Defense-EU” plan would seek to give Brussels a role in ensuring more efficient arms spending, allowing European buyers to band together to gain market leverage . Consistent with ambitions for broader “strategic autonomy” in Europe, EU officials insist the package will have a strong industrial component. The centerpiece of the announcement is expected to be the European Commission’s assessment of the “defense investment gap”.

Europe’s needs are urgent. Diplomats say the EU has so far agreed to supply Ukraine with weapons worth 2 billion euros, meaning that in many cases member states, especially in the east with Soviet-era ammunition, have emptied their stocks and now need to be refilled.

In a brief summary of what the EU wants to achieve, Josep Borrell, the foreign policy chief, said: “Europeans need to consume together, more is better.”

While the financial strength and effectiveness of Wednesday’s defence-EU package remains to be seen, even venturing into such areas could be controversial. Some European countries have historically been very concerned about straying into defense policy because of any potential overlap with NATO and fears of angering the United States, which leads the Western security alliance.

“This is new and we are breaking taboos,” said a European Commission official, acknowledging that treaty obligations “prevent us from funding elements involved in defence operations.”

To get around this legal hurdle, the official suggested that Brussels could focus on the broader manufacturing ecosystem rather than direct “defense action.” The official said the new defence-EU plan “will focus on ‘investments with industrial ambitions’.”

“It’s industry-related, not necessarily operations-related,” the official added.

Commission officials said the plan would be funded through the EU’s regular budget, which could test some legal boundaries. EU treaties have long been interpreted as prohibiting the Commission from using its common budget to buy weapons. Other officials and diplomats said the new extrabudgetary fund could be used to finance joint procurement.

Details of the European Commission’s defence-EU plan were first reported by French news site B2.

Versailles order

The plan is the European Commission’s response to instructions from 27 leaders at the European Council summit in Versailles in March, where the council tasked the European Commission to act on a lengthy wish list to strengthen security cooperation .

The general concept of joint procurement was briefly discussed at a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels on Tuesday. The EU already has a European Defence Fund (EDF) to finance joint research and development projects. There is also the European Defence Agency (EDA), which helps coordinate security policy. In addition, there is an extrabudgetary European Peace Fund for military assistance, including weapons, to partner countries. Ukraine has been its main beneficiary since the war began.

But the EU has never before coordinated joint defense spending among member states.

At a briefing after Tuesday’s meeting, Dutch Defence Minister Kaisa Olonggren said the next steps — including how much money might be put into the joint spending plan and the legal mechanisms governing it — would be in the very near future. Much depends on the security needs identified by the committee.

“I think tomorrow, the committee will submit a report on the capability gap,” O’Lonren told reporters. “So that’s really the question that the European leaders were asking at Versailles.”

Given the return of war to Europe and the threat posed by Russia, better coordination and more efficient spending are imperatives, Olonggren said.

“I think it’s very important that we try this,” she said. “Now we have EDF – so it’s on the R&D side. I think we’ve found the right mechanism to better coordinate this and collaborate better between countries. If you want to strengthen that, sourcing , well, there has to be some kind of solution, also from a treaty perspective. But I think the foundation of the Versailles agreement is important because it says, “Yes, we have to have a European security and defense policy, and it also has to Include some kind of purchasing method. ”

Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren said the next steps would largely depend on the security needs identified by the committee. Sem van der Wal/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

It’s time to start spending

Ollongren pointed out that the European Peace Fund operates under an intergovernmental agreement between member states and is not within the EU’s regular budget.

“Of course, now with the EPF, for example, we are helping Ukraine in an intergovernmental way,” she said. “It’s also quite possible. So it doesn’t have to be a European Commission level thing. But it should be in a way, it should make sure you get the right incentives from here too, as in the EDF.”

Ollongren added that ministers needed the committee’s assessment to take further steps. “We couldn’t really discuss it because we didn’t have real material on the table,” she said. “But we’re taking steps in that direction. I think the first step in that direction is understanding the real capability gaps in the first place.”

At Tuesday’s meeting of the European Defence Agency’s Steering Committee (a body of EU defence ministers), “We will carry out an analysis of the defence investment gap with the committee, in response to the mandate of the European Commission. Leader of the Palace of Versailles,” EU Foreign Policy Chief Borrell said at a news conference after a meeting of defense ministers.

The analysis, he added, “looks at short-term gaps. The first thing to do is to replenish our military materiel reserves. In the medium term, we must enhance our existing capabilities, and in the long term, we must strengthen and modernize .”

“…spending done, let’s say in a common way, has been decreasing. Against any rationality, it has been decreasing. So it’s time to reverse that trend and do something else.”

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