US warns EU over €13-billion defense spending

The US has warned the European Union that plans to boost defense cooperation within the EU could undo decades of trans-Atlantic cooperation and damage NATO. The EU's foreign policy chief said US concerns were unfounded.

The United States has decried "poison pills" embedded in proposed rules which could shut third country allies such as the United States out of European defense projects.

US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland emphasized the point in a letter and warned of possible US sanctions: "I hope we can avoid contemplating similar courses of action," he said. The EU has been asked to respond to the letter by June 10.

Speaking after EU defense ministers met in Brussels on Tuesday, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said the US concerns were unfounded.

"The EU is actually at the moment much more open than the US procurement market is for the European Union companies and equipment," Mogherini said in Brussels. "In the EU there is no 'buy European' act and around 81% of international contracts go to the US firms in Europe today."

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

Union within a union

With 25 of the EU's current 28 member states joining the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), there seems to be a great deal of consensus among member states but a few remain on the fence. The new defense union is expected to address immediate threats without having to rely on NATO for all of the EU's defense needs.

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

High expectations

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had been campaining for PESCO for several years. He expects the new military pact to deliver a "European Security and Defence Union (which) will help protect our Union, which is exactly what EU citizens expect."

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

A 'new era' for European security

EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Chief Federica Mogherini welcomed the establishment of PESCO as the dawn of a "new era." Mogherini further described the initiative as "an inclusive framework to facilitate the joint investments and projects that we so much need to strengthen the ability of the European Union to be a credible security provider for its citizens and globally."

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

Franco-German foundations

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen are among the chief supporters of the PESCO defense union. Von der Leyen stressed that with the United States taking a critical stance on NATO, launching Europe's very own defense initiative was "important - especially after the election of the US President," referring to Presiden Donald Trump.

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

A new direction

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (pictured left) welcomed the launch of PESCO in the face of those fears over US President Donald Trump's commitment to the transatlantic defense alliance. Stoltenberg said that PESCO will "strengthen the European pillar within NATO" adding that it will be "good for NATO" as well.

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

Left outside

The majority of EU states signed up to PESCO. Malta still mulling over it, Denmark has opted out for the time being, and the UK is expected to reject the proposal, as it is set to leave the EU by 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May is free to join PESCO at a later date however - even after Brexit - if the terms of that cooperation would benefit the entire EU.

What is the EU defense union PESCO?

EU soldiers?

It is unclear to what extent there will be concrete military cooperation between EU states, as is the case with the EUFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The signing of PESCO initially provides only the framework for expanded collaboration and more efficient spending of military funds.

Self-reliance in the EU

The US concerns are focused on the seven-year, €13-billion ($14.6-billion) European Defense Fund (EDF) approved by the European Parliament in April, and the EU defense pact Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). The plans would see EU states cooperate on projects to develop new military equipment such as fighter planes and drones, and on support systems such as military hospitals and training centers.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Europeans were doing what the Americans had been demanding for many years: building up their defense capabilities. She said it was necessary to trust that NATO would benefit from their collective efforts.

However, the US had written of its suspicions: "The draft EDF regulation and PESCO general conditions represent a dramatic reversal of the last three decades of increased integration of the trans-Atlantic defense sector," US Undersecretary of Defense Ellen Lord and US arms control negotiator Andrea Thompson, wrote in their May 1 letter to Mogherini.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has publicly backed the pact, as long as it does not lead to duplication.

Mogherini met with EU defense ministers on Tuesday to discuss how to involve non-EU states, including the UK and the US, in the bloc's defense projects.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute think tank, the US is the world's largest arms exporter with a 36% share, followed by Russia, France and Germany. In terms of imports it sits at 16th on the list, with Germany, the Netherlands and France being the three top sources.

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DW News | 19.02.2019

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New projects

France and Germany are planning to develop a European fighter jet as part of a project to achieve improved strategic autonomy and end the historic reliance on the US to guarantee regional security.

In 2011, a Franco-British mission in Libya ran out of munitions and equipment and was obliged to turn to the US. The French response has been guided by that experience. 

EU governments claim surveys indicate a majority of citizens want the bloc to provide security.

jm/cmk (Reuters, AFP)

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