Despite criticism from European lawmakers and advocacy groups, the EU adopted the €5 billion worth French-brokered European Peace Facility (EPF) on Monday (22 March), which will open the door for the bloc to deliver military aid to partner countries and finance the deployment of its own military missions abroad.
With the EPF, the EU said it wants to “better help partner countries” by supporting their peace-keeping operations and by helping them to “increase the capability of their armed forces to ensure peace and security on their national territory”.
According to the agreement, the EU intends to use the money to finance its missions and operations under it the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), as well as infrastructure and military equipment for partner countries, such as small arms and ammunition.
“These measures may include supplying military and defence related equipment, infrastructure or assistance, at the request of third countries or regional or international organisations. The assistance measures will be embedded in a clear and coherent political strategy and will be accompanied by thorough risk assessments and strong safeguards,” the note stressed.
Portugal’s foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva said in an EU presidency statement that “European Peace Facility will allow us to support our partner countries in addressing shared security challenges tangibly”.
“Lasting peace can only be built by investing in international stability and security,” he added.
The EPF will replace the ATHENA mechanism, which has funded the EU’s involvement in CSDP military missions and operations since 2004.
Financed through contributions from EU member states and endowed with €5 billion until 2027, the mechanism’s aim “is to enhance the EU’s ability to prevent conflict, preserve peace and strengthen international stability and security”, covering all EU external actions that have military and defence implications.
The bloc says the mechanism is needed to make its training missions in three African countries more effective and to enable it to contribute to peacekeeping efforts elsewhere in the world.
Until now, EU support could only be provided to operations in Africa through the African Peace Facility, which has been financing security assistance and other military operations in African countries including Somalia and the Sahel region.
With the adoption of this new instrument, the EU wants to “broaden its geographical scope” by contributing to “the financing of military peace support operations and assistance measures for our partners anywhere in the world.”
It is also the first EU mechanism that allows the EU to send aid and military equipment all over the world.
But the EU paying for arms is a sensitive issue for some member states, especially when it involves countries with a history of political unrest and human rights abuses.
EU lawmakers in the European Parliament are split about the initiative and emphasise that a compliance framework needs to be put in place.
“The European Peace Facility fills a gap in the EU’s external action capacity to act. It creates a single instrument for the comprehensive financing of all Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in military and defence areas,” MEP David McAllister (EPP), chair of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee (AFET) told EURACTIV.
According to him, this would allow for “more flexibility, enhanced support to CSDP missions and peace support operations conducted by the EU’s partners in support of shared security objectives”.
“Generally, the European Peace Facility must be conducted under a robust framework of compliance, risk analysis and control measures. As the European Parliament, we expect the Council and the High Representative to keep us fully informed on a regular basis,” McAllister added.
“With this so-called ‘Peace Facility‘ the EU will be able to export lethal weapons around the globe, including to conflict regions,” said MEP Hannah Neumann, foreign policy spokesperson for the Greens, adding that the new instrument would constitute a “paradigm shift”.
“Arms exports can add fuel to the fire of military conflicts, lethal weapons and ammunition can quickly fall into the wrong hands – once delivered, arms cannot be taken back,” she said.
“Although a strict control regime is mentioned, we have already seen in the past that rules are interpreted in a very lax way – one example are the common rules for exports of individual member states – that is why we need transparency and comprehensive control rights for the European Parliament,” Neumann added.
However, the European Parliament’s criticism yield little result as the new EPF has been kept separate from the EU’s main seven-year budget to circumvent the bloc’s rules against spending its budget on weapons.
The agreement to set up the fund does introduce a strict control regime and actions under the new mechanism will need to comply with the EU Code of Conduct for Arms Exports, which requires that military goods, in general, are only allowed to be delivered “if full compliance with human rights and humanitarian law” is guaranteed.
Advocacy groups and experts have harshly criticised the project, with some NGOs having highlighted the risk that the weapons and equipment supplied by the EU could end up being used by authoritarian governments to suppress internal dissent.
Giuseppe Famà, head of EU affairs at the International Crisis Group think tank in Brussels said that “such equipment can still be misused to further violence, as governments of fragile states often have poor governance and management systems to handle it”.
“The EU should not provide lethal equipment to fragile states, and should instead prioritise other assistance measures. It should also shape its interventions within political strategies whose priorities are governance reforms, community reconciliation and the restoration of the social fabric,” Famà added.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]