Munich Young Leader Sara Skyttedal, MEP, on Strenghtening European Defence
Sara Skyttedal is a Member of the European Parliament for the Swedish Christian Democrats and part of the Munich Young Leaders 2023. As Shadow Rapporteur for the European Defence Industry Reinforcement through Common Procurement Act (EDIRPA) for the EPP group in the European Parliament, she comments on possible ways to strengthen European Defence within the framework of the EU.
“The EU is not, and should not become, ,a friendlier alternative to NATO‘ [...] What enhanced defence cooperation, within the EU’s structures, is about – or at least should be about – is the fundamental question of how the EU can complement the existing structures within its member states and within NATO.”
Sara Skyttedal, MEP
Munich Young Leader 2023
Strenghtening European Defense through Joint Procurement
New realities shed a light on old flaws, it is often said. The new reality that Europe finds herself in, since the start of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine on February 24 2022, is no exception. The fact that – more or less – all EU member states have neglected their defence is the most obvious shortcoming. And it’s a shortcoming with clear EU dimensions. But the EU as such provides great potential to strengthen Europe’s collective defence capabilities.
In general, it is my belief that the EU can fail by doing too much, as well as by doing too little. Too much EU action in areas where there is a lack of clear added value of coordination and multinational compromises (in my opinion, social issues are the clearest example of this) threatens the legitimacy of a strong EU. At the same time, so does too little EU action in those areas where in-depth cooperation is not only desirable, but absolutely necessary. For me, it has become increasingly obvious that defence issues are clear examples of the latter category, not least since Russia started its reckless war of aggression in Ukraine.
Small Steps and Empty Stocks
The EU has gradually deepened defence cooperation in recent years: In 2017, member states agreed on PESCO, the Permanent Structured Cooperation in Common Security and Defence Policy. Soon after, the European Defence Fund (EDF) to co-finance defence research projects was created. These have been important steps. At the same time, the will to take defence cooperation within the Union a step further has been lacking. Until now.
In the spring of 2023, we face a reality where many EU countries have almost completely emptied their munitions stockpiles. Not least, Germany has major shortcomings that need to be addressed. The German Army (Bundeswehr) has only enough ammunition for one or two days of warfare, the German edition of Business Insider reported last October. This situation is partly due to much needed and righteous donations to Ukraine, but mainly exists today because of decades of not providing long term conditions for the defence industry in the past. Overall, the lack of well-developed defence cooperation within the framework of the EU has been a key weakness for a long time, once again illustrated by the situation we find ourselves in now.
At its core, the EU is a peace project. But, as the most recent war on the European continent painfully reminds us, peace needs to be defended with brave soldiers, modern defence equipment and a lot of ammunition. Rooted in this understanding, the need for urgent changes in a wide range of policy areas related to defence is clear.
Making Use of Europe’s Strengths to Ensure its Defence
What, then? The EU is not, and should not become, “a friendlier alternative to NATO”, as some would like to make it out to be, when the question of possible EU contributions to strengthened European defence capabilities is raised. On the contrary, we must beware of building parallel structures to NATO. Nor should the defence forces of EU member states be replaced by some new grandiose joint EU defence structure. What enhanced defence cooperation, within the EU’s structures, is about – or at least should be about – is the fundamental question of how the EU can complement the existing structures within its member states and within NATO.
One intensely discussed issue regards defence mobility, i.e. how we can simplify the movement of troops, material and munitions within Europe. Another issue, which is long overdue, concerns the issue of joint defence procurement.
The strength of joint procurement has been shown not least throughout the covid pandemic. It is a fact that the EU jointly procuring vaccines led to member states receiving more doses, at a more affordable price point, than what would have been the case if the 27 member states had acted individually.
As Europe’s weapons stockpiles are now being depleted, the same logic needs to be applied to defence procurement.
Last summer, the European Commission proposed a first, smaller, step to achieve this through the European defence industry reinforcement through common procurement act, or EDIRPA, in short. In contrast to the past procurements of vaccines, it is not about the EU itself directly procuring defence materiel. Instead, with EDIRPA, a new EU instrument is created to provide financial incentives encouraging member states to make joint defence procurements.
Ensuring European Defence Capabilities in the Long Run
EDIRPA is, however, a short-term instrument, designed to fill the most urgent holes in the arsenals that now exist after substantial donations to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This summer, a long-term, permanent instrument is expected to be presented by the European Commission.
In one sense, EDIRPA is a rather small and symbolical step towards a more robust European defence industry. Still, its symbolical importance is hard to over-estimate, as it is the beginning of a more far-reaching deepening of the EU’s defence cooperation. There is now a strong momentum to use European cooperation to strengthen the continent’s defence. Let’s hope that the European Commission recognizes it and makes use of this promising window of opportunity.
This article covers the personal opinion of Sara Skyttedal, MEP, and does not necessarily represent the views of Körber-Stiftung. For requests, questions or comments please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.