Friday 28 July 2017

EU chief Juncker urges member states to boost defence spending

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker speaks during a conference on European security held in Prague. (Michal Krumphanzl/CTK via AP)
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker speaks during a conference on European security held in Prague. (Michal Krumphanzl/CTK via AP)

EU leaders have urged member states to increase defence spending for its own sake, not because of pressure from US President Donald Trump or Britain's looming departure from the bloc.

President Trump has demanded that Nato's 22 EU members hike spending to 2% of gross domestic product on military budgets.

The European Commission has launched debate on what direction EU defence cooperation should take once Britain leaves in 2019.

In a speech during a conference on EU security and defence in Prague on Friday, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the way ahead "starts with making sure we spend what is needed on our defence".

He said the EU needs to "invest more, and invest in a more efficient way".

EU member states are spending an average of 1.3% of GDP on defence, much less than the United States, Russia and China, Mr Juncker said.

Many defence projects are done on national level with no coordination, he added.

As a result, "there some 170 different weapon systems in the EU, compared to 30 in the United States".

"It's no longer a question of national sovereignty," Mr Juncker said.

"It's a question of European sovereignty."

The EU unveiled a new defence fund on Wednesday to provide a total of 500 million euro (£440 million) in EU money in 2019 and 2020 to help buy and develop military equipment.

This would double to one billion euro annually from 2020.

Besides increasing its defence, Mr Juncker said Nato remains crucial for the EU's security.

"Nato has been and will remain a cornerstone of European security," he said.

"We're different but have to complement each other in so many ways."

"No Nato is not an option for the European Union. It would be a disaster for the European Union. We have to stick together," Mr Juncker added.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told the conference that "this is the time now to get things done".

"Let me be very open about this," Ms Mogherini said.

"If we're heading toward European security and defence, it is not because UK is leaving the European Union ... or because of shifts across the Atlantic.

"We're doing this because we need it, and we want it."

Both Ms Mogherini and Mr Juncker said security and defence are among top priorities of citizens in all EU countries.

"There's one thing that European citizens say clear and loud. They want more European Union in defence and security," Ms Mogherini said.

AP

Press Association

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