EU defence plan to present Ireland with ‘significant’ costs

Brexit harbours ‘unforeseen ramifications’ for military spending, department warns

A member of the Irish Army Ranger Wing in Goz Beida in eastern Chad: The exchequer cost of Ireland’s financial contribution to international operations will rise from 2021 with the introduction of the European Peace Facility. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

A member of the Irish Army Ranger Wing in Goz Beida in eastern Chad: The exchequer cost of Ireland’s financial contribution to international operations will rise from 2021 with the introduction of the European Peace Facility. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

A planned new €5 billion EU defence and security initiative is likely to have “significant cost implications for the exchequer”, a Department of Public Expenditure review has found.

The spending review also notes that Britain’s exit from the EU “could have unforeseen ramifications for defence expenditure”.

It says that “even in the absence of any expansion of the common costs for EU missions, the loss of the United Kingdom as a contributor means that remaining states, including Ireland, may have to contribute more if the level of funding is expected to remain the same”.

The review warns that should recruitment and retention difficulties in the Defence Forces continue, “despite the measures to increase pay and allowances on foot of the 2019 Public Sector Pay Commission report, there may be limits on the number of personnel available for overseas duty”.

The review says the total direct cost of participation in overseas peace support missions by the Irish Defence Forces in 2018 was €53.1 million. This included pay for the personnel concerned, overseas allowances and a number of non-pay costs, including overseas sustainment and operational costs.

The department review concludes that the overall exchequer cost of Ireland’s financial contribution to international operations will increase from 2021 with the introduction of the European Peace Facility. It described this initiative as an off-budget €5 billion EU fund that would both finance missions on an ongoing basis and maintain a contingency fund for emergency deployments.

‘Peacekeeping missions’

“These costs, however, arise through European Union membership and participation in EU common security and defence policy rather than having a link to Defence Forces’ participation in specific overseas peacekeeping missions.”

The review suggests some of the potential new costs would be offset by the ending of contributions to existing arrangements which are expected to form part of the proposed new arrangement.

On foot of queries regarding the findings of the spending review, the Department of Public Expenditure said the costs were not known at this stage.

“The €5 billion ceiling agreed for the European Peace Facility represents a significant increase on previous common foreign and security policy spending. The scale of Ireland’s contribution to the European Peace Facility will be assessed based on a gross national income (GNI) distribution key.

“As far as the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is aware, the key used to calculate this level of contribution has not yet been decided and, as such, the amount of additional spending envisioned for Ireland, for 2021 and in subsequent years, is unclear.”

The spending review says that given the scale of the proposed new European peace facility, “there are likely to be significant cost implications for the exchequer arising, although some of the costs will be offset by existing contributions to the African Peace Facility and Athena. It should be noted that these costs will arise in the normal course as a result of EU membership and participation in EU common security and defence policy rather than any link to participation in peacekeeping operations.”

‘Infrastructure and equipment’

The review says that the Athena mechanism was the current off-budget EU instrument whereby EU member states could bypass the treaty on the European Union restrictions on expenditure of a military nature and finance security and defence operations led by the EU. It says the existing EU military missions in Mali and Bosnia are funded in this way.

In April 2019, then minister of State with responsibility for defence Paul Kehoe told the Dáil that, under the proposals, the European Peace Facility “would be used to fund infrastructure and equipment for the training and capacity building of security and military forces in fragile and conflict states so that they can better provide their own security.

“The most controversial aspect of the proposal is the suggestion that this could include funding for some lethal equipment, most likely small arms and weapons,” he said.

“The aim of the European Peace Facility is to give the EU the capability to contribute to the financing of global military peace support operations led by international partners such as the African Union. This financing would assist in building the capacities of partner countries’ armed forces to preserve peace, prevent conflict and address security challenges.”