EU reveals plans to boost spending on military capabilities

Ireland’s neutrality ‘not affected’ by defence action plan announced in Brussels

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini: The  Defence Action Plan encourages member states to invest more in military security as anxiety  grows in  Baltic states about the threat of Russian aggression. Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini: The Defence Action Plan encourages member states to invest more in military security as anxiety grows in Baltic states about the threat of Russian aggression. Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

 

The European Commission unveiled plans on Wednesday to boost the EU’s defence capabilities, as the bloc seeks to strengthen its military resources.

The European Defence Action Plan, announced in Brussels by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, encourages member states to invest more in military security and enhance co-operation on defence spending, though decisions on whether to participate will be made by individual member states.

Sources said Ireland’s policy of military neutrality will not be affected by the proposal, which involves no new legislation.

“If Europe does not take care of its own security, nobody else will do it for us,” commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said.

“To guarantee our collective security, we must invest in the common development of technologies and equipment of strategic importance – from land, air, sea and space capabilities to cybersecurity. It requires more co-operation between member states and greater pooling of national resources.”

A key strand of the proposal is a new European Defence Fund, which would allow countries that pay into it to borrow money for investment in military assets such as helicopters and drones.

The fund would also finance collaborative research by member states on defence technologies. To this end, the commission will pledge €500 million per year from the EU budget post-2020 to fund a dedicated research programme on defence.

The commission also proposes that the ban on the European Investment Bank from financing military projects be lifted, though this will be a decision for member states.

Procurement market

The commission also hopes to create a “single market for defence” by developing an EU-wide procurement market for defence and making it easier for defence companies to operate across borders.

Unveiling the proposal, the commission noted that national defence budgets in Europe had decreased over the last decade in contrast to those of China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, which have been upgrading their defence sectors on “an unprecedented scale”.

The question of further EU collaboration on defence and security will be considered by EU leaders at the next leaders’ summit on December 15th and 16th in Brussels, which will be attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Any proposals will need to be endorsed by the European Parliament as well as member states.

Calls for greater EU competence in the area of security and defence have intensified since Britain’s vote to leave the European Union as Britain has traditionally opposed greater EU co-operation on defence which it sees as the preserve of Nato.

In the weeks following the British referendum vote, France and Germany published a joint paper calling for greater defence co-operation at EU level.

Mr Juncker has also expressed his support for an EU army, though senior officials say this is not on the table.

Deepening unease

The move to bolster defence spending takes place against the background of deepening unease among the Baltic states about the threat of Russian aggression and the call from US president elect Donald Trump for EU states to spend more on defence. Twenty-two of the 28 member states are members of Nato, the Brussels-headquartered transatlantic alliance established in the wake of the second World War.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal group in the European Parliament, welcomed the announcement of a new defence fund, arguing that the EU needs to improve its defence capabilities.

“Working together on defence will make us stronger, safer and better off. Due to our lack of co-ordination, we lose up to €100 billion a year, while nearly 80 per cent of defence spending in the EU is run on a purely national basis,” he said.