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Brussels wants to help EU countries with defence spending in joint purchasing programme

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By Euronews
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EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, addressing reporters at a press conference on EU defence investment gaps and measures, May 18, 2022.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, addressing reporters at a press conference on EU defence investment gaps and measures, May 18, 2022.   -   Copyright  Xavier Lejeune/(c) Xavier Lejeune

The European Commission wants member states to spend more on defence and to help them do it more efficiently, as it looks to better manage the bloc's capabilities following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

More EU countries are inflating their military budgets as a result of Moscow's recent aggression, which is why, in an unprecedented move, the European Commission said on Wednesday that it can coordinate this spending on their behalf to increase the effectiveness of defence expenditure.

"We have to buy [military equipment] together like we did with the vaccines and we want to do with the gas," Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs told reporters in Brussels.

"And that's why we are proposing a joint procurement defence task force where member states could engage with their short-term procurement needs. And we also propose financial incentives for member states to participate in this [task force]."

The Commission's plans are an extraordinary move, given that the EU treaties forbid it from financing defence operations.

It argues that Moscow and Beijing's defence budgets have skyrocketed in the past decade, leaving the EU vulnerable, with its military capabilities lagging behind.

That's why in the short term, it wants member states to replenish weapons stockpiles, at the same time as replacing Soviet-era equipment and reinforcing air and missile defence systems.

Beyond this, it says drone and armoured vehicle reserves should be beefed up, whilst also boosting space and cyber defence capabilities.

Finally, member states' maritime forces need strengthening too.

But the money cannot come from the EU budget, so it has to come from elsewhere.

Fabrice Pothier, chief executive officer at Rasmussen Global, told Euronews that funds will have to come from its so-called "own resources", which can often mean finding new sources of revenue.

"There will be some serious European Commission own resources that can be allocated to support some common projects or collective or multinational projects among member states," Pothier said.

"And obviously the European Commission will never have enough money to match or to fill the gap between what European member states are spending now and where they should be in the coming years, but really it can have an enabling effect - it can kick-start some capability projects that otherwise would not be happening."

Brussels also wants to boost the ability of the bloc's defence industry to make military equipment, especially in the aeronautics and missile sectors, as it looks to make itself more strategically autonomous.

This idea of strategic autonomy has now been somewhat dampened, according to Bruno Lete from the German Marshall Fund.

"The problem is that Europe’s dream of Strategic Autonomy has been sunk in Ukraine," Lete told Euronews.

"After years of debate whether NATO or the EU should lead security, it is NATO that has emerged as the trusted partner. With the events in Ukraine, some EU countries regard the US or the UK as a better security insurance, than say France or Germany."

EU member states will now have to sign off on the proposals before they can become a reality.