In first review, EU comes clean on military failings

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union acknowledged on Friday that it lacks the capabilities to meet its goal - pushed most strongly by its biggest members - to become a standalone military power able to help NATO or deploy troops rapidly to regional crises.

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Seeking to address major shortfalls, the EU’s first annual defence review, presented to the bloc’s defence ministers on Friday, found that only 60% of the national troops and weapons nominally available to NATO are in a fit state to be deployed.

EU governments are also reluctant to deploy those troops, the report found. Formal EU military missions receive just 7% of all EU states’ military personnel committed worldwide, with problems generating troop levels, it said.

While such EU weaknesses were largely known, because the bloc has never had the military strength to match its economic might, major EU governments including France, Germany, Italy and Spain hope the detailed review and public recognition of failures will be a watershed.

“The EU does not have all the required military capabilities available in order to fulfil (its) level of ambition,” said the report. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters: “European defence suffers from fragmentation, duplication and insufficient operational engagement.”

Smaller member states including Greece, Sweden and Poland have sought to protect domestic armament industries, which leads to duplication in weapons output, thwarting coordination geared to the protection of the continent as a whole.

Meanwhile, tiny Belgium and Luxembourg are among the lowest military spenders in Europe, and Denmark has opted out of EU defence initiatives.

France and Germany also disagree on how far to develop EU military cooperation independent of the United States, by far the biggest power in NATO and Europe’s effective security guarantor since World War Two.

But after four years of hostility towards NATO from U.S. President Donald Trump, the EU says it can no longer rely solely on the United States to solve crises in its neighbourhood.

The EU has been working since December 2017 to develop more firepower independently of the United States. The effort has been led by France, the EU’s remaining major military power after Britain, which opposed such cooperation, left the bloc.

With a weapons development fund being set up, backed by 8 billion euros ($9.50 billion) from the EU budget for the first time next year, French President Emmanuel Macron has called for more “sovereignty” in the EU’s ability to defend itself.

The 27-nation EU aims to draw up a military doctrine by 2022 to define future threats and ambitions.

The report, part of an EU strategy to develop self-standing military capacity over the next decade, urged EU governments to jointly produce six areas of weaponry and end costly national duplication, including focusing on a new battle tank, a patrol class surface ship and counter-drone technology.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Mark Heinrich