The European Union takes another step in the militarization undertaken to survive an unstable global scene. The EU will carry out its first joint military maneuvers in Spain in 2023, according to the High Representative for European Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell. The first exercise on the ground of its new military arm, the so-called Rapid Deployment Force —which will have up to 5,000 troops—, will take place during the Spanish presidency of the Union, in the second half of next year. There is still, however, an important chapter to close: how much the training exercises will cost and how they will be financed.
The maneuvers are intended to be the first test for the implementation of the force in 2025. That year, the command of the troops will pass from the national units to the Military Planning and Execution Capacity (MPCC), framed in the EU General Staff (EMUE), created in 2017. The 2023 maneuvers in Spain will not mobilize the 5,000 troops of the future force, but only a part of them, but they will be crucial to verify the command capacity and control of the MPCC, the embryo of the EU headquarters.
After having taken substantive steps, first pushed by the threat from the Kremlin and then by Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Union continues its schedule towards carrying out joint military maneuvers, Borrell said this Friday, during the presentation of the annual spending report in defense of the EU. “Spain has promised to host the first maneuvers of the European armies together,” said the high representative.
With the Rapid Deployment Force, which was already outlined in the 2021 EU Strategic Compass and contains geostrategic orientation points for the Union, Brussels seeks to overcome the concept of battle group Europeans, who theoretically had an availability of 1,500 soldiers, but have never been activated due to a lack of political will, and are moving towards an operational intervention force, with 5,000 soldiers, financial resources for their mobilization and training. The missions for which the future Deployment Force is planned are based, for now, on two operational scenarios: a first stabilization operation; and later another rescue and evacuation, according to community sources.
The EU headquarters (MPCC), which until now had led non-war missions focused on training the armies of third countries (Mali, the Central African Republic, Somalia or Ukraine) will assume command of the EU Rapid Deployment Force in 2025, but it is already preparing by enlarging its staff. It is yet to be determined at which points in Spain the maneuvers will be carried out (which could also involve naval exercises) and how many uniformed personnel will participate in them.
In the coming months, the Twenty-seven will discuss their participation in the maneuvers and also their financing. Part of the cost will be borne by Spain, as host; and the other participating countries will pay a part. It remains to be determined if, as Spain claims, the EU will also contribute to its financing, but nothing has been decided yet, according to community sources.
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The progress in EU military cooperation is unprecedented. It arrives fueled by the Kremlin war and hybrid threats. Since the invasion of Ukraine ordered by Vladimir Putin almost ten months ago, the Union has launched historic defense measures. For the first time, it has financed the purchase of lethal weapons to help a country at war, Ukraine. It has put on the table a European fund of 5,000 million euros for joint arms purchases for the member states and has launched a training mission for Ukraine; a mission that has just started and that has its main bases in Poland and Germany and that is not at all like other EU training missions, since it takes place in community territory and, furthermore, it is a mission of “military assistance”, rather than just training.
I witnessed at the training site of our Military Assistance Mission #EUMAM Only 15 days after its launch an impressive specialized program on combat engineering and demining for Ukrainian troops, who bravely defend their nation.
The EU stands behind #Ukraine and is delivering. pic.twitter.com/TBPPOwG8Ya
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) December 2, 2022
Added to all these steps is the announcement a few months ago by the European Council that the rearmament of the EU, necessary after the war in Ukraine, will be carried out “jointly” between the countries.
One of the pending chapters is joint spending on purchases of defense material, which, although it has increased, remains low: the countries spent 7.9 billion euros on joint purchases or projects (compared to 4,100 in 2020); 18% of total spending on defense equipment, well below the 35% that the EU has set as a benchmark, according to the annual spending report of the European Defense Agency (EDA). Russia’s war in Ukraine has been a wake-up call for many, Borrell has acknowledged. In fact, the armaments reserves of the Member States are depleting due to the support that some partners have sent to kyiv.
The EDA report, with data from 2021, does not reveal disaggregated data for the countries, because some have opposed the disclosure of their defense budget by chapter. EU member countries spent a total of €214 billion on defense in 2021; 6% more than the previous year. However, this represented only 1.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), below the 2% target set by NATO. “Overall, we are very far from the US, three or four times below in terms of spending, almost at the level of China, but four times more than Russia,” Borrell said.
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