Southern countries push for common EU defence policy

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This article is part of our special report Building the way out of the crisis.

Spain, Portugal and Italy have jointly proposed to pool resources for defence spending, seeing more coordination in the military sector as an answer to the economic difficulties the European Union is facing. EURACTIV Italy reports.

Spain, Portugal and Italy have joined the calls from Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to push forward proposals for a European defence policy. The three countries' defence ministers said the EU needed a more strategic division of investments by military sector between member states.

The ministers addressed the need for a common European defence strategy and redefinition of the relationship between the EU and Nato on that matter.

Italy’s Mario Mauro argued that a differentiation of the roles of each of the two organisations would make them both more effective in maintaining security on the world stage.

Currently, the 28 member states spend more on defence than Russia, China and Japan combined, but while these three countries have increased their defence budgets by more than 100% over the last ten years, EU States have been progressively cutting them down.

According to Mauro, the lack of a common European policy to maximise defence resources from each country, decrease spending, and avoid the duplication of efforts and capabilities are the biggest handicap for Europe in comparison with Asia. Better coordination would also allow more balanced spending and reallocation of funds to areas such as research and employment, he said.

While 20 years ago, Eastern Europe was a sensitive region, today the Middle East and North Africa represent the biggest instability risk in Europe’s immediate surroundings.

“Our proximity to these nations has increased our responsibility to promote a joint proposal setting out our countries’ priorities for the upcoming European Council in December”, said Mauro. The three Ministers are convinced that the military sector could boost the European economy, through technologies available to civil industries.

Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) was launched in the 1990s, but there is still no European expenditure or European defence budget. The crisis in public spending induced cuts in defence budgets. From 2001 to 2010, defence spending in EU states declined from €251 billion to €194 billion.

The challenges created by shrinking defence budgets are aggravated by the fragmentation which leads to unnecessary duplication of capabilities, organisations and expenditures. A Bertelsmann Foundation study on the added value of EU spending showed that by integrating European land forces, EU countries would be able to save between €3 billion and €9 billion a year and have in future a total of 600,000 land force soldiers, compared to 890,000 today.

The result of EU fragmentation is a duplication of development and production of defense equipment and different standards. This fragmentation also hinders the development of common logistical support systems and diminishes military interoperability.

  • 5-6 Sept.: Informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers
  • 19 November: Defence Ministers meeting
  • 19-20 Dec.: EU summit to discuss and possibly endorse Commission communication

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