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EU Parliament sets high expectations for future EU Defence Strategy

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European Parliament lawmakers have cautiously welcomed the European Commission president’s latest defence strategy announcement as a step in the right direction but stressed the need to have sufficient funding and member states on board.

Adding an extra layer to the many existing short-term programmes and funds to boost the defence industrial base in Europe, Ursula von der Leyen announced a European Defence Industry Strategy in her State of the Union speech last Wednesday (13 September).

According to Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, it will include a Defence Production Act and the European Defence Investment Plan (EDIP)

But despite the cautious welcome, the fact that a long-term strategy is mentioned only one year before the end of the EU executive’s mandate, leaving little time for negotiations, also raised some eyebrows in the ranks of the European Parliament’s defence specialists.

Welcomed strategy

The announcement of a ‘strategy’ “confirms the Union has reached a kind of age of reason, with the realisation of the need for a European military-industrial complex,” MEP Dominique Riquet (Renew, France) told Euractiv.

According to Riquet, who has been involved in almost all of the Parliament’s defence-related negotiations for the past decade, it is just the logical next step after the Act to Support Ammunition Production (ASAP), “it’s time to structure the European defence industry,” he added.

MEP Hannah Neumann (Greens, Germany), however, told Euractiv that the EU has already been working on a European defence strategy “for the past few years”.

Asked what shape such a future strategy should have, Neumann painted an ambitious picture: “We need to make sure that we secure raw materials, make strategic decisions on where to use them, procure together and also make joint export decisions (…) that we do it all together, from A to Z.”

This point was echoed almost word for word by MEP Michael Gahler, a German MEP for the conservative European People’s Party, who called for “more interoperability, [joint] procurement, training and using together”.

“We are guilty of being in competing programmes when we have one enemy,” he said, hinting at Russia and considering former US president Donald Trump’s call for a more independent Europe.

No policy without money

“If we wanted to be realistic, we would need EUR5 billion,” Gahler, from the same political family as von der Leyen, stressed to Euractiv.

Despite the political will among the EU member states to support Ukraine “as long as it takes”, EU funds are running low while national capitals are boosting their budgets after decades of disinvestment following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But MEP Nathalie Loiseau, chair of the European Parliament’s Security and Defence sub-committee, told Euractiv that “if we are serious about our support for Ukraine, if we are serious about her [von der Leyen’s] promise of a “Geopolitical Commission” made in 2019, we need to put our money where our mouth is”.

Lack of transparency

The fact that von der Leyen only mentioned the strategy in her closing remarks, she was answering EU lawmakers’ questions, rather than in her speech, raised some questions.

“It is fair to say that the choice of themes in the State of the Union address was highly selective, probably with a view to the election. The absence of the defence issue is particularly striking,” MEP Marc Botenga of the Left underlined, considering the budget devoted to the policy.

Neumann, for her part, stressed that it cannot work “without involving the European Parliament, where we can have a debate, and not behind closed doors”.

Some defence files were handled by the member states only, with no prior public assessment or without Parliament’s negotiations, a problematic point she and Botenga added.

For now, the proposal is in the early drafting stage. Once presented by the Commission, it will be sent to the Parliament and the member states for debates and amendments.

[Edited by Alice Taylor/Zoran Radosavljevic

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