EU defence stockpiles 'almost empty' despite increase in spending, Borrell warns

German soldiers walk beside tank howitzers 2000 prior to transportation to Lithuania at the Bundeswehr army base in Munster, northern Germany, Feb. 14, 2022.
German soldiers walk beside tank howitzers 2000 prior to transportation to Lithuania at the Bundeswehr army base in Munster, northern Germany, Feb. 14, 2022. Copyright AP Photo/Martin Meissner
Copyright AP Photo/Martin Meissner
By Alice Tidey
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Josep Borrell said that Europe had under-invested in defence for years.


Defence investments in Europe are increasing but stockpiles are "almost empty" and critical defence capabilities are lacking, the European Union's top diplomat said on Thursday.

"The war in Ukraine has been a brutal wake-up call for many of us," Josep Borrell told people gathered in Brussels for the release of the European Defence Agency (EDA)'s annual spending report.

"For years we have been under-investing and this has meant that our stockpiles have been quickly depleted due to the fact that we are providing them to Ukraine," he said.

"When we provide military support to Ukraine, this military support doesn't come from the factory, (it) comes from the stocks, the army stocks. And everybody agrees that this stockpile has been quickly depleted because they were almost empty."

Borrell added that the EU also lacks critical defence capabilities to defend itself.

According to the EDA's report, EU countries spent a combined €214 billion on defence in 2021, crossing the €200 billion threshold for the first time ever following a 6% year-on-year increase.

Still, this amounted to just 1.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — below the target of 2%.

Borrell welcomed the fact that defence investment — which relates to the procurement of defence equipment — grew by 16% to a total of €52 billion.

"€1 out of (every) €4 goes to new capabilities and it is increasing very quickly. For the third year in a row, we collectively met and exceeded the 20% benchmark," he said.

Spending on defence research and technology meanwhile increased by 41% year on year to €3.6 billion while expenditure on research and development reached €9 billion in 2021, up by almost 20% compared to 2020.

Collaborative defence equipment procurement, however, was significantly below target. 

EU countries spent a total of 18% of their overall defence expenditures on joint purchases when the benchmark has been set at 35%.

"We need to address the short-term needs by investing and procuring jointly, buying more together," Borrell said. 

"There are very much concrete intentions by some member states to participate in the joint procurements. But these intentions have to be translated quickly into acquisition orders sooner rather than later."

"The European Defence Agency stands ready to support this procurement and act as a contracting agent EU Member States requested. We have the legal basis and we have experience to do so let's go quicker to refill our stocks," he said.

Earlier this year, the European Commission unlocked an additional €1 billion in funding to boost joint defence research and purchases. These came on top of the nearly €8 billion allocated to the European Defence Fund for the 2021-2027 period.

Multiple EU countries responded to Russia's war on Ukraine, now in its tenth month, by upping their defence spending pledges. Germany, for instance, unveiled a €100 billion package to upgrade its military equipment.

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