Member States’ defence expenditure rises for fifth year in a row, says report

EU defence spending currently stands at just over €223bn, a 3 percent increase on 2017.

Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

18 Dec 2019


After a decade of cuts, the European Defence Agency (EDA) says that total defence expenditure has returned to pre-financial crisis levels.

This level of spending represents 1.4 percent of GDP and 3.1 percent of total government expenditure, said the Brussels-based EU agency.

However, the EDA report also found that Member States are not meeting spending commitments in “key areas” and that European defence spending in some areas still remains below 2008 levels.


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Jorge Domecq, EDA Chief Executive, said, “It is extremely positive that defence budgets have almost fully returned to pre-financial crisis levels, with 2018 marking the fifth consecutive year of increased spending.”

“Our report is evidence that Member states have put a renewed impetus into defence spending after suffering heavily in the years following the financial crisis.”

The report says that 14 EU countries spent 20 percent or more of their defence budget on investment in 2018, up from 7 states in 2014, and that the four largest EU members account for 85 percent of total defence research and technology spending.

Despite the rise in total defence expenditure, spending on what the EDA calls “fulfilling collective benchmarks” has failed to keep pace, warns the report.

“Our report is evidence that Member States have put a renewed impetus into defence spending after suffering heavily in the years following the financial crisis” Jorge Domecq, EDA Chief Executive

Responding to the report, Paul Taylor, a defence expert, told this website, “The thing that strikes me looking at the charts is that this is a typically half-hearted exercise in shaming without naming. Member states are numbered, like anonymous samples in a blind tasting, to spare the blushes of the guilty.”

“The second observation is that this is the last year in which the UK will be included. If, as I suspect, the UK is the Member State that spends most on R&T and among those that have the highest percentage of investment in equipment, next year’s figures will look really dreadful.”

Taylor, a senior fellow with the Friends of Europe think tank, added, “The charts don’t show where the extra defence spending of the last five years has gone. They only show where it hasn’t gone - on collaborative equipment purchases or collaborative R&T.”

“This is bad news as the EU seeks to launch the European Defence Fund. Rather than catching the wave, the EDF is going to have to try to turn the tide.”

“Another educated guess one can make is that some countries shoot up in the equipment spending ratings when they suddenly sign a big contract to buy US fighter aicraft.”

“This is a typically half-hearted exercise in shaming without naming. Member states are numbered, like anonymous samples in a blind tasting, to spare the blushes of the guilty” Paul Taylor, Friends of Europe

“The EDF figures are too coy to show that, but if you look at the latest NATO defence spending and equipment figures published on November 29 just before the London meeting, they show that Bulgaria, the poorest EU Member State, is suddenly top of the charts in Europe and second only to the US in defence spending, and equipment as a  percentage. Guess why? They signed their biggest ever equipment acquisition deal in July to buy F-16s after Trump put the hard sell on them. Slovakia is another example of the same trend.”

He added, “Of course, big-ticket purchases from Uncle Sam doesn’t explain it all, but it shows how these statistics, even when names are omitted to protect the under-performers, are bad news for supporters of European industrial autonomy in defence.”

Further comment came from Denis MacShane, a former Europe minister in the UK, who told this website, “The best contribution Europe can make to raising its defence profile is to produce the same arms in all countries that are completely interoperable along lines of Airbus.”

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