EU to boost joint defense spending
Philippe Huguen (AFP/File)
The EU unveiled ambitious plans Wednesday to boost joint defense spending including on shared assets like drones and helicopters, as concerns grow that President-elect Donald Trump may downgrade the US security commitment.
Trump shocked longtime NATO allies in Europe when he suggested on the campaign trail be would think twice about coming to their aid if they had not paid their defense dues.
That prospect, combined with the Ukraine and migrant crises plus nuclear-armed Britain's shock vote to quit the European Union, have moved security sharply up the bloc's agenda.
"If Europe does not take care of its own security, nobody else will do it for us," European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement as the plans were announced.
"A strong, competitive and innovative defense industrial base is what will give us strategic autonomy," said Juncker, who has long pushed for a more active EU military role and ultimately what he calls a "European Army".
To stand on its own two feet, the EU "must invest in the common development of technologies and equipment of strategic importance -- from land, air, sea and space capabilities to cyber security," he said.
What is known as the European Defense Action Plan targets more efficient defense spending and increased joint research and procurement.
It proposes increasing the current 25 million euros ($27 million) allocated to defense research in the overall EU budget to 90 million euros by 2020, when it should be replaced by a dedicated program worth 500 million annually.
Another fund, potentially worth five billion euros per year, would help member states acquire military assets jointly so as to reduce the cost, the statement said, citing as examples drones or helicopters.
This would strengthen what it referred to as the "Single Market for Defense" -- putting it on a par with the EU's other single markets which aim to break down national barriers, be it in telecoms or energy.
"The Commission will strengthen the conditions for an open and competitive defense market in Europe to help companies operate across borders and help member states get best value for money in their defense procurement," the statement said.
Total annual defense spending by the 28 EU member states comes to nearly 200 billion euros ($215 billion), accounted for largely by Britain on 48 billion euros, France 39 billion euros and Germany 35 billion euros.
The Commission proposals will now be discussed by member states before going up to an EU leaders summit in December set to be dominated by concerns over what tack Trump will take as president.
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