A defence policy audit conducted by the European Court of Auditors has found substantial gaps between the EU’s defence plans and its practical capabilities.
Until 2014, the auditors say, defence policy was predominantly dictated by individual Member States; however, the combined factors of international, economic and industrial developments over the last five years have led to increased EU-wide policy initiatives and a significant rise in the levels of funding directed to internal and external security measures: the EU’s defence budget for the period spanning 2014 to 2020 totalled €2.8bn, while the European Commission has proposed an increase to €22.5bn for the upcoming 2021-27 period. However, the defence policy audit identifies ‘a risk that proper control systems may not be in place to accommodate such an increase in EU spending’.
The auditors highlight a number of further challenges to the widespread implementation of policy as laid out by the EU, including a lack of co-ordination between Member States and between sectors; a lack of specificity in some of the EU’s stated goals, such as ‘strategic autonomy’ or ‘a European army’; and the fact that the cost of the EU’s policy ambitions greatly outweighs the actual economic capabilities of its Member States. They noted that the gap was likely to widen after Brexit, saying: ‘The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU would further worsen this situation, as the UK is Europe’s biggest spender on defence, accounting for about a quarter of EU Member States’ total expenditure.’
The defence policy audit report notes that the success of increased EU defence measures will be contingent on a number of conditions which are not currently wholly being met, with particular reference to:
- An effective EU-wide planning system;
- Full participation of Member States;
- The discrepancy between the ambition of EU defence policy and Member States’ capabilities, in real terms; and
- Frameworks governing defence oversight and accountability.
Juhan Parts, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the review, said: “Defence involves creating real military capabilities, with a clear potential to deter potential threats. In the absence of critical success factors and without specifying clear goals, there is a risk that current EU defence initiatives remain a dead letter and end up with no outcome.”