The Brief — EU making defence industry sexy again

Putin has achieved what no one else could – make Europe realise that when it comes to financing its defence industry, the good reasons have started to outweigh the bad and the ugly ones.

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Calling for stronger support and more financing for the European defence industry has long been a no-no for policymakers.

Usually, the activities of arms lobbyists only appear in the media on rare occasions, often associated with bribery and dubious export deals to non-EU countries scarred by conflict and corrupt government officials.

But with Russia’s war in Ukraine and the EU starting to flex its geopolitical muscle, the tables have turned – at least a bit.

“If you’d have asked me a year ago, whether we would see the EU, a project build on peace and the prevention of war, lobby to increase defence spending and EU officials so enthusiastically speak about buying arms and ammunition – I would have said you lost it,” one EU official told EURACTIV this week.

“But let’s be honest, for a long time we haven’t been very differentiated when approaching the issue – there are the good, bad, and very ugly reasons to do this and our current approach falls into the first category,” they added.

In other words, the war in Ukraine is a warning shot for Europe.

Under a plan presented by the European Commission on Wednesday (3 May), the EU now aims to give subsidies to European arms manufacturers for investments that increase the production of ammunition and missiles.

ASAP, or Act in Support of Ammunition Production, will need to prove whether it will really be as soon as possible (or as slow as possible).

“When it comes to defence, our industry must now switch to war economy mode,” the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton, also responsible for the bloc’s defence industry and space portfolio, told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday.

The scheme is the third part of a broader EU-proposed three-track plan to get more ammunition and arms to Ukraine, particularly 155-millimetre artillery shells, which Kyiv is pleading for as the fight against Russia’s invasion has become a war of attrition.

As part of the push to supply 1 million shells to Ukraine within 12 months, the EU has already agreed to set aside €1 billion for ammunition and missiles that its members send to Ukraine from stockpiles.

It has allocated another €1 billion for the joint procurement of such munitions as part of the second track of the plan, but member states are still bickering about the legal details over the extent to which they should be produced in Europe.

Breton said the EU had a substantial industrial base for the production of ammunition but “it does not have the scale today to meet the security needs of Ukraine and our member states”.

These plans aside, the increase in Europe’s defence spending has been rapid, with European countries spending significantly more on weapons over the course of last year.

According to research institute SIPRI, military spending in Europe was higher last year than it had been since the Cold War, a direct consequence of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

But while NATO has far more authority to encourage its member states to spend (and spend well), the EU’s authority has been so far missing in action, despite having created tools that could potentially answer capability questions asked today.

Despite efforts, it seems to be struggling on that front, according to the EU’s financial watchdog which last month for the first time took a look at how the European Commission and the European Defence Agency (EDA) handled the ‘preparatory action on defence research’ (PADR) programme.

“We found that the EU currently still lacks a long-term strategy on defence spending,” said Viorel Ştefan, the member of the European Court of Auditors (ECA) in charge of the report, adding that “the availability of qualified personnel” was identified as one specific “risk factor”.

The pilot project was designed to test the waters before getting serious about a critical €8 billion investment into the bloc’s defence capabilities.

The verdict: Not enough personnel, not enough expertise and no long-term plan. Ambition is one thing, delivery is quite another.

Today’s edition is powered by Medicines for Europe

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The Roundup

The European Union’s construction industry stands at a crossroads: In its transition to a climate-neutral ecosystem, the incumbent industry is worried that organic replacements are given disproportionate support.

Despite progress in innovative drugs and treatments related to multiple myeloma in Italy, patients warn that long waiting lists in public health facilities still pose severe obstacles.

The capacity for public authorities and external auditors to access the source code of Artificial Intelligence in an upcoming EU rulebook was restricted based on a digital trade agreement, according to internal documents from the European Commission.

Tackling massive emissions from buildings has Brussels pushing for higher renovation rates, a measure deeply unpopular with Italians, many of whom own their flats and who fear their cultural heritage is endangered.

The European Commission’s initiative to make online content providers pay for network investment costs has managed to bring together two historical enemies, civil society groups and rightsholders.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Finland on Wednesday (3 May) for talks with Nordic leaders on support for his country’s war with Russia and on its relations with Europe.

Nordic Pharma, the sole manufacturer of abortion pill misoprostol, said that recent shortages of the drug in France are now resolved. However, associations warn that the situation could repeat itself if the company maintains its monopoly on the drug.

French MPs Maud Bregepon and Pierre Cazeneuve embarked on a six-week tour of France on Tuesday (2 May) to promote the government’s two latest energy laws, first making a pit stop in Germany to slam its “failed” coal-reliant energy policy.

Switzerland is exploring whether it should join two of the EU’s military projects, on cyber defence and military mobility, as the traditionally neutral country gears up to boost defence cooperation with neighbouring countries.

Civil society groups have urged the European Commission not to table new rules that would require NGOs to disclose if their funding comes from outside the EU in a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (3 May).

Regulation of short-term rentals for holidaymakers should be tightened, according to a call launched by several French parties on Tuesday (2 May) that ties in with a broader EU debate on how to facilitate data collection by online platforms.

Don’t forget to check out this week’s Health Brief: Clash of ambitions in the asbestos fight.

Look out for….

  • Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis participates in ECB Governing Council in Frankfurt on Thursday.
  • Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni and Vice-President Dombrovskis participate in Brussels Economic Forum 2023.
  • Informal meeting of employment and social affairs ministers
  • Foreign Affairs Council (Development)
  • Informal meeting of health ministers, Thursday-Friday

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald/Benjamin Fox]


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