Spend more, spend better to improve EU defence

Spend more, spend better to improve EU defence
By Euronews
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The conflicts in Ukraine and Syria have renewed debate over how much hard power Europe needs to stabilise its own neighbourhood, and to protect its interests. But how much is EU hard power stymied by austerity-stricken governments who can’t spend the 2% of GDP some say is needed to create viable defence? Reluctant to spend more, will Europe continue to rely on American-run NATO, and can they always count on it? The US was scaling back until the latest crises. Or should Europe only be seeking soft-power political solutions like diplomacy and humanitarian aid – and not waste their money on new hardware?

Discussing these questions on The Network, were Michael Gahler, a German member of the centre-right European People’s Party Group in the parliament; Philippe Lamberts, Belgian co-chair of the parliament’s Greens/European Free Alliance in the parliament; and Paul Ivan, policy analyst with the European Policy Centre, and a former diplomat.

Euronews: “Welcome to all of you and let’s start with a question to all of you, starting with Michael. Can you really have a strong foreign policy without a strong army? Can you really gain credibility with only soft power?”

Michael Gahler: “We need the entire toolbox from verbal notes to fighter aircraft. And that means that we in the current circumstances, first of all we need to stop cutting defence spending and then use the available funds better by common planning and common procurement.”

Euronews: “Philippe what’s your position on that?”

Philippe Lamberts: “The military part of the toolbox is quite undeniable but the question is how much bang do we get for our buck? And when we have 28 national defence budgets, that’s probably not the best way to extract value from our investments. So the question is maybe not do we need to spend more but maybe do we need to spend better?”

Euronews: “Paul, do we need to spend more?”

Paul Ivan: “Well I would say that we need to do both. Both spend more and spend better.”

Euronews: “How much more do we need to spend? Do we need 2%?”

Paul Ivan: “That was one of the figures that was discussed when the Member States committed in the framework of NATO to spend. At the same time we’re talking about foreign policy, the world outside the EU that does not follow EU rules. And it’s not a post-modern world, it’s the world in which we have war, so it’s clear that the EU has to adapt to that.”

Euronews: “We have to spend more but there are some countries that are saying, “Look, I can’t spend more! I’m stuck with this Stability Pact that’s keeping me from spending more!” The Italians for instance would like to suspend the Stability Pact rules on its defence spending. What do you think, Philippe?”

Philippe Lamberts: “Well that’s not where I would start. I mean if governments have to spend money from the flexibility of the Stability Pact, it should be more on the social issues because what we risk is an internal explosion rather than an external threat so probably we should put the priority there.”

Euronews: “Michael. Stability Pact out the window when it comes to defence?”

Michael Gahler: “It’s two different issues. I mean I just said it’s about better spending. It’s also about adapting our structures to the needs. For instance we have the Athena financing mechanism which doesn’t suit the purpose, that prevents countries that cannot pay all the costs of an engagement and therefore they abstain and put the load on others and so we need to reform in this regard, but we can make use of what we’ve got.”

Euronews: “OK reform, but it’s going to take time. I think we’re seeing that there’s been general support for NATO. Should Europe continue relying on NATO as it has because the Americans have been saying look we might not always be here.”

Philippe Lamberts: “Well probably we should refocus our spending. There are two major military spenders in Europe: the UK and France. A significant chunk of their expenditure goes on their nuclear arsenal and this is typically the kind of instrument you don’t use. You prefer not to use it so the question is, do you really want to put all your bucks into that basket?”

Euronews: “Do we need deterrents? Do we need nuclear deterrents, Paul?”

Paul Ivan: “Well the countries that have nuclear weapons seem to believe they have to keep them, especially as other countries in the world are improving and upgrading their systems. It’s part of the military tools. At the same I believe that NATO will remain the backbone of European security at least in what concerns the security of Europe.


Euronews: “Should we be sending weapons to moderate rebels in Syria?”

Michael Gahler: “I think in the north of Iraq with regard to the Peshmerga I supported that because there it is foreseeable who gets it and who will use it for what purpose. In Syria it’s more difficult, I’m very hesitant.”

Philippe Lamberts: “I’m just looking at the recent records. I mean the US spent tens of billions of dollars equipping the official Iraqi army only to see it whither from the battlefield.”

Euronews: “So you think it’s a waste of money?”

Philippe Lamberts: “Depending who you are! And what is the military game plan in order to ensure security on the ground and so far I see no credible plan for Syria for instance.”


Euronews: “Paul, very quickly is this something we’re throwing money at wrongly?”

Paul Ivan: “It’s clear that there needs to be a clear strategy to do this. And at the same time I would say that the Kurdish troops are better organised than maybe the Shi’ite and the Sunni part of the Iraqi army.”

Euronews: “Back to European Defence. Doesn’t Europe need a strong military for peace-keeping as well as for peace-making? Doesn’t that really justify really boosting Europe’s military? The Eurocorps for instance? Turn it into a real army? Michael?”

Michael Gahler: “I am very much in favour, I mean the Eurocorps has been used even in Afghanistan but not under EU command. But it has been used by NATO and others and it could serve as a nucleus for a future European Army.”

Philippe Lamberts: “There are two conditions for this to work. First, before we have a joint tool, do we have a joint vision? And what I see is that many European Member States are still diverging widely as to what their view of the strategic landscape is. Second, we have very different rules of engagement. In Germany you need the Bundestag to conquer to a commitment, and I like this, I think we need democratic legitimacy for these decisions. In France it’s the president who decides. We have to have the same process across Europe to engage common troops.”


Euronews: “Paul. Is this what actually condemns Europe to actually being unable to have an assertive defence policy, military policy? Because of all these different kinds of ways the governments work?”

Paul Ivan: “Well clearly that’s one of the problems, this lack of a common vision, lack of a common strategic culture, with these big differences between the Member States of the European Union on this and as Philippe Lamberts mentioned, some of these examples, we still have European Security Strategy that is 11 years old. We should definitely update that. There are new challenges in the world, things are much more serious than they were 11 years ago.”

Euronews: “What’s holding us back from that? We’ve been talking about this for years!”

Michael Gahler: “What has held us back was there wasn’t really the feeling that we had too little money, there wasn’t really the feeling that the US is disengaging and there wasn’t really a feeling that there was an outside threat. And now we have all three. Too little money, the US disengaging and the external threat so I think that is the time to get us moving in this regard.”

Euronews: “Philippe, do you think that’s going to happen? Do you think we’re going to see something? I think 2015 is supposed to be some kind of decisive year where there will be a decision on this.”


Philippe Lamberts: “Well there’s a chance that the ball really does get rolling and I would really start with the common vision thing because again if you have a common instrument and no common vision then you’ll never use the instrument.”

Euronews: “And if we ramp up this defence. I mean we heard from Mr Schäuble in Germany saying this is the wrong signal to send to the Russians right now. What do you think, Paul?”

Paul Ivan: “Well I think the Russians do pretty much what they want, not respecting what Europe does. I don’t think Europe should prepare its defence depending on what Russia wants.”

Michael Gahler: “Mr Schäuble is definitely not against more European defence but before we take the step to increase defence spending, first let us stop cuts in defence, and let us better spend the existing money. And then we’ll see where we are.”

Euronews: “Would you agree, Philippe?”


Philippe Lamberts: “Yes, I think we should start pooling capabilities and building capabilities together again. Duplication is widespread in Europe and we are missing in some areas: air re-fuelling, intelligence, etc.”

Euronews: “Last question to you Paul. We’re 100 years after the beginning of the First World War, we’re about 70 years after the end of the Second World War. Do you think that Europe will ever have the stomach to have a strong military, considering that history? This could be a whole day discussion but quick!”

Paul Ivan: “I think it will take a long time until we will have a European army as such. We will continue to have for the foreseeable future national armies that could work better or worse together. So I think we should focus on how to make them work better together and to have the capabilities, some of them mentioned by Mr Lambert, to actually do missions for example in the neighbourhood without necessarily having to ask for the help of the Americans.”

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