Ireland backs push for joint EU military procurement

Equipment such as ammunition and armoured carriers could be jointly purchased in pursuit of better value, Coveney says

Ireland has backed a plan for European Union member states to team up to jointly purchase military equipment to ensure value for money and that gear is interoperable across the EU.

The initiative, which takes inspiration from the joint procurement of Covid-19 vaccines at the height of the pandemic, is being developed by a Defence Joint Procurement Task Force that has assessed shortfalls in EU defence stocks and areas suitable for co-ordination.

“Particularly small and medium countries want this joint procurement process, so we’re not being outbid by countries that have much deeper pockets and are buying much bigger volumes,” Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney told The Irish Times after EU defence ministers met in Brussels.

“We’ll be looking to see whether we can partner with other EU countries co-ordinated by the European Defence Agency, which makes an awful lot of sense from a value-for-money point of view and, of course, an access-to-market point of view.”

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Mr Coveney said Ireland was open to joint procurement in a variety of areas “whether it’s ammunition, whether it’s helmets, whether it’s protective equipment and, in time, it will be armored personnel carriers, later on this decade”.

“We do have plans to purchase a whole range of equipment, whether that’s primary radar capabilities, new naval vessels, in time upgrading of our aircraft fleet,” he said.

He insisted that joining forces was logical and did not prejudice Ireland’s non-aligned status, pointing out that Ireland would need to negotiate all its purchases from abroad because there is no domestic arms industry.

“This is, by the way, in no way compromising in terms of our neutrality or non-alignment,” Mr Coveney said. “This is not a Nato structure, this is a European Defence Agency structure, which is there essentially to assist countries to be able to get what they need at reasonable value.”

The move comes as member states prepare to ramp up defence spending to replenish stocks that have been severely depleted by arms transfers to Ukraine.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told journalists there had been a decade of under-spending in defence in Europe after the global financial crisis hit in 2008, meaning that recent pledges to dramatically ramp up spending would only go towards fixing the prior gap. EU countries need to spend an additional €70 billion on defence by 2025 to make their armed forces fit for the future, he argued.

Stock replacement

The sudden increase in demand is expected to strain the capacities of defence manufacturers on the continent. EU officials are nevertheless keen to steer the spending into local industries and use the opportunity to bolster the self-sufficiency of the European defence sector, and avoid all the cash flowing to the arms industry in the United States.

“The ministers agreed that the European defence industry needs to ramp up production rapidly, rapidly to replenish stocks which have been allocated to Ukraine,” Mr Borrell said.

He said the degree of co-operation between the armed forces of different member states was currently “very low”, meaning that the interoperability of equipment was a problem and the kinds of equipment such as tanks and helicopters used across the EU highly fragmented, leading to inefficiencies and waste.

The Defence Joint Procurement Task Force had identified 100 different areas in which “joint procurement can be a win-win for all” ranging from “satellite communication to maritime surveillance”, he said.

Through joint purchases “we could avoid competing for the same products, competing for the same thing with a limited industrial capability”, he said.

To facilitate the joint procurement, EU member states agreed to increase funding to the European Defence Agency by 13 per cent, he said, adding that military experts and advisers would be “coming from all European armies” to support the co-ordination of expenditure.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times