EU defence funding far too small for big ambitions: report

The European Court of Auditors is an independent financial watchdog. [Transparency International/Flickr]

EU’s objective to increase defence spending to €22.5 billion over the next decade is insufficient for its ambitions in the sector, the European Court of Auditors said Thursday (12 September) in its annual review paper on the bloc’s defence cooperation and policy.

If the EU tried to defend itself without help from its big NATO ally, the United States, “it is estimated that an investment of several hundred billion euros would be needed to overcome the current capabilities gap,” the report underlined.

“Significant and uncoordinated cuts in member states’ defence budgets, together with underinvestment, have affected their military capabilities,” the report highlights.

Juhan Parts, a former Estonian prime minister who is a member of the European Court of Auditors that is tasked with scrutinising EU spending, called the mismatch between the ambitions and the resources on offer “huge”.

He told AFP that “full-scale military planning (by the EU) is a duplication of NATO”, but noted that was an issue for politicians, not for auditors.

Nevertheless, he said, the fact that NATO member Britain accounting for about a quarter of EU member states’ total defence spending. – currently the EU’s main national military power along with France – was about to leave the bloc should give pause to those looking to bridge the gap between spending and strategic goals.

“If a very big member with a huge military budget and forces leaves the EU, then this gap becomes even bigger,” he said.

“If we are now talking about ‘strategic autonomy’ and this mismatch (with resources) then, if the biggest (military) spender will leave, strategic autonomy becomes even more unrealistic,” he said.

Europe, particularly France, has increasingly been looking at creating a common defence capability with “strategic autonomy” to accompany its economic weight on the world stage.

That is why, for the bloc’s 2021-2027 budget cycle, it intends to boost defence spending 700%, from €2.8 billion in the current multiyear cycle.

But there are concerns, highlighted in the report, that the initiative would overlap with a lot of what NATO does. All but five of the current EU28 are in NATO.

The report noted that EU countries do not share a common threat perception, or vision of what exactly defence should consist of, or even rules of engagement.

Some member states, for instance, “tend to focus on territorial defence against the military threats posed by Russia, while others are more oriented towards security challenges originating in North Africa or the Middle East”.

As a result, the EU’s approach to defence was “vague”.

With the new European Commission and the recent creation of DG Defence Industry and Space, the EU aims to deal with the bloc’s fragmented defence industry and bring current defence initiatives such as the EU’s permanent structured cooperation (PESCO), the yet to be created European Defence Fund (EDF) and a possible single EU headquarters for military operations under the Commission’s helm.

One of the tools, the European Defence Fund, which is set to financially support European research and development projects across the bloc, is meant to start work after the EU budget negotiations are concluded by the end of this year or early next year.

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