EU lawmakers rubber-stamp European Defence Fund, give up parliamentary veto

The European Defence Fund aims to strengthen Europe’s defence industry and reduce duplication in defence spending. [EPA-EFE/FILIP SINGER]

MEPs signed-off a deal establishing the multi-billion European Defence Fund (EDF) on Thursday (18 April), giving up parliamentary oversight of the EU’s military subsidies programme.

According to plans, approved by EU lawmakers with 328 votes in favour, 231 against and 19 abstentions, the EDF is set to receive an estimated €13 billion in the EU’s next multi-annual financial framework (MFF) and will finance research projects.

However, the partial agreement does not yet include the final financial figures as the seven-year EU budget still needs to be approved by the next Parliament.

The fund aims to strengthen Europe’s defence industry and reduce duplication in defence spending by co-funding defence research with member states.

“Thanks to the EDF, we will not only prevent taxpayer’s money being wasted on unnecessary duplication of defence capabilities, but more importantly also increase Europe’s security and create new jobs in the defence industry sector,” rapporteur Zdzisław Krasnodebski, a Polish conservative, said after the vote.

Controversy over the Parliament’s role

Although the majorities to approve the fund had been clear, MEPs tabled a series of amendments in a bid to reinstate some proposals rejected during the negotiations.

Letters reveal Parliament split ahead of European Defence Fund vote

Ahead of a crucial European Parliament vote on the European Defence Fund (EDF) on Thursday (17 April), MEPs are at odds over the issue of parliamentary scrutiny, internal communication seen by EURACTIV suggests.

A number of MEPs were bitter about the concessions made by the Parliament to the member states giving up parliamentary scrutiny over the fund.

Letters circulated ahead of the vote and obtained by EURACTIV suggest that although negotiations over the partial political agreement of the fund are formally over, the EU assembly was split over what role it will have in the future.

Effectively, after the vote EU lawmakers will have no veto right over projects funded by the EDF.

During a heated debate on Wednesday (17 April) night, the rapporteurs for the file described critics of the fund as “pacifists who are trying to imperil the future of our industry and the safety of our citizens.”

“We have won the battle to secure a common and strong European Defence Fund for the future and this despite obstacles set up by ideological opponents,” French centre-right deputy, Françoise Grossetête said after the vote.

The fund is not about “militarising Europe,” but rather, “about supporting weapons research and development,” Krasnodębski told MEPs.

“Both the left and right ideas are wrong, in terms of their objections.”

Duplication issues

Both Krasnodębski and industry commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska stressed that the purpose of the fund is to complement NATO, not compete with it, as suggested by some critics. The programme’s purpose is “nothing more and nothing less” than defence industrial cooperation, Bieńkowska said.

Reinhard Bütikofer, defence spokesperson and shadow rapporteur for the Greens/EFA group said he would vote against the defence fund because it is “not fulfilling its promise” of reducing duplication costs.

According to figures published by the European Commission last month, a lack of defence cooperation costs the EU between €25 billion – €100 billion per year.

“To ensure Europe can protect its citizens, we need cutting-edge defence technology and equipment in areas like artificial intelligence, drone technology, satellite communication and intelligence systems,” Commissioner Bieńkowska told reporters in Brussels last month.

Demands for ‘more Europe in NATO’ as leaders gather for Munich Security Conference

Demands for a stronger EU and foreign policy, more commitments to NATO and concerns over Russia’s assertiveness were the leitmotifs as the 55th Munich Security Conference kicked off on Friday (15 February).

“With the EU investments we are launching, we are going from ideas to concrete projects, we are strengthening the competitiveness of our defence industries,” she then said.

Collaborative defence research projects have to involve three or more member states, while the EU will be co-funding the research alongside national governments.

The programme will also cover development of weapons prototypes, provided the member states involved commit to acquire the final product.

However, as Green shadow rapporteur Bütikofer critisised, the agreement  reached runs risk to “boost the export of arms to authoritarian regimes” as there are currently no common export controls at EU level.

Killer robots off the list

One of the moot points during the negotiations had been the possibility that the fund could be used for the development of controversial weapons.

The agreement excludes the development of lethal autonomous weapons – so called killer robots – and weapons systems prohibited by international law, such as land mines, or nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

Autonomous weapons, AI are future of defence but require ethical debate, says expert

Should a computer be allowed to take decisions over life and death? As artificial intelligence is playing an increasing role, many issues still need to be discussed in parliament and by the general public, Ulrike Franke told EURACTIV about the ongoing autonomous weapons debate and the future of warfare.

The Socialist group’s shadow rapporteur Edward Martin said the restrictions were insufficient.

“We can’t just have a reference to international law, because international law is ambiguous,” said Martin. “We need to list the types of weapons that we don’t want Europe to be investing in,” he told MEPs.

The deal has now to be approved by ministers. In autumn, the newly composed European Parliament after the European elections in May will negotiate the outstanding financial part of the agreement.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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