Defence: Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press conference on the EU defence investment gaps and measures to address them

(Source: EEAS)

Check against delivery!

This Joint Communication [on the Defence Investment Gaps Analysis and Way Forward] from the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is about the state of the art of the European defence capabilities and the difference between what we have and what we should have. This is the gap. The gap is a breach, it is a difference between our capabilities and the capabilities that we should have in order to face the threats and challenges that Europeans are facing.

When we presented the Strategic Compass, the title was ‘Europe is in danger’. And, at that time, before Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, people smiled. Now, unhappily, the danger is very evident, and the ruthless attack of Russia against Ukraine has made it evident for all European citizens that the war is at our borders. The war is a reality that affects all of us – and mainly the Ukrainians, certainly. But it makes clear that war is not something that we [could] forget about forever, unhappily.

Nothing comparable to what is happening in Ukraine has happened in Europe since the end of World War II. In terms of human costs, thousands of soldiers have been killed. In terms of the number of military assets involved, hundreds of tanks have been destroyed, and with the global consequences of this conflict.

And this applies also to the European Union’s response in terms of political, financial, humanitarian, and military support to Ukraine. But to support Ukraine and to support ourselves, we need to increase our capacity to act and take more responsibility for our security.

The Europeans have been comfortable under the US and NATO umbrella, and we got a certain feeling of comfort. And the message today – this message was also in the Strategic Compass – is that we have to do more. We have to do more, and this Joint Communication on the defence gaps analysis, that we have adopted today is a call to strengthen the European Union Member States’ defence capacities because defence in the European Union remains a competence of the Member States, it is a national competence. And the Member States have to wake up and increase their capacities.

On defence expenditures, [Executive] Vice-President [Margrethe] Vestager has been presenting very interesting and convincing data. If we had been spending since 2008 until now, the same amount as before the euro crisis, we would have spent €160 billion more in defence. These €160 billion, now we see that they are missing. They are missing while others have been increasing very much, as [Executive] Vice-President Vestager said, much more than us. The differences between the US and Europe are evident. We have increased [our defence expenditures] by 20%, the US have increased [it] by 66% – three times more.

An important issue with these expenditures is that it is being done mainly on a national basis. The collaborative investments – I mean the investment that is being done all together – is only 11% when it should be about 35% according to our plans. We spend together less every time. It has been decreasing, despite the calls to unify our capacities and despite the calls to spend together, to spend better, to avoid duplications, to avoid gaps. In spite of that, we have been decreasing the amount of cooperative investments.

This trend has to be reversed. Years of budget cuts and underinvestment have to be recovered. We have to have economies of scale, we have to reduce fragmentation and the critical gaps that we have today in our armed forces. Let’s put an example: the US has only one type of battle tank, we have 12. The logistical costs, the duplications, the lack of interoperability is evident. It is evident in our Air Forces, in our Navies. Everywhere, we have fragmentation and duplication. So, we need to spend more but, most importantly, we need to spend together to spend better. And today, with this Communication – and I am talking as much as Vice-President of the Commission and as Head of the European Defence Agency -, we have gathered, we have put together all our intellectual capacities in order to present an expertise to the Member States and the European Council about what we should do in the short, medium and long term.

The most important and immediate problem is a very practical one. We have to refill our stockpiles, our military material, because we have been providing a lot of support to Ukraine on ammunition, on transport, in force protection and we have to refill our stocks. This can be done easily in the short term, but it will be much better to do it together. We have to buy together, as we did with the vaccines and as we want to do with the gas. And that [is why] we are proposing a Joint Procurement Task Force where the Member States should engage in the short-term procurement needs. And we propose also financial incentives for the Member State to participate on that.

In the medium term, we have to increase our existing capabilities and fill the gaps – in terms of quality and in terms of quantity. We need modern air defences, we need drones, we need air-to-air refuelling capabilities, we need tanks and armoured vehicles, we need coastal defence, we need cyber and space-based capabilities – just to name a few.

We know it. The European Defence Agency has been working in the last years to explain these gaps, to explain how we can and should fill these gaps. But to tell the truth, we have not gotten a lot of success and nobody was listening to us. If I may make a joke. I hope that now, together with the Commission, joining the leadership of the Commission, and the [European] External Action Service, and the European Defence Agency, Member States will be more attentive to our warnings. They will understand what are our problems and what could be the solution.

In the long term, we have to modernise our European armed forces, we have to increase our capabilities. We have to define better what are our needs and to provide answers to these needs through a stronger European defence industry. There is no autonomy without a solid industrial basis. On that, the European Defence Agence has also been working. We have been producing this CARD, the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence. In the coming months the last of these reports will be issued. We have been providing a Capability Defence Development Plan. This is the time for Member States to read these documents and to act. These documents are being added as an Annex to this Communication and I hope that the strong political umbrella that the Commission is providing to this issue will make it much more understandable. It is a wake-up call. We need to act. And in order to act, this document presents these lines of action.

Time to act is now. Because we need to react quickly to the current situation, from the industry side to the operational, the concrete military capacities to put – if needed – boots on the ground. Commissioner [for Internal Market, Thierry] Breton will for sure develop all the issues of industry, which is the most solid base for our military capacities.

And dear Vice-President [Margrethe Vestager] and dear Commissioner [Thierry Breton], allow me to say a word about the External Action on Energy Policy that today I presented. It is a part supporting the RePower efforts in order to work together with our partners in the world and develop altogether the purpose of reducing dependence on hydrocarbons and fight against climate change.

And also, the Strategic Partnership with the Gulf in order to share prosperity, the Green transition, security, development and cooperation with such an important set of countries. Important today for global security, energy, but also security – short -, because they are involved with us in the situation created by the lack of agreement with Iranians in the Gulf, on the nuclear side, on the war in Yemen and so many other issues in which we want to work together with the states of the Gulf.

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