MILAN, Italy — While defense spending is on the rise almost everywhere in Europe, national appetites for translating budget growth into increased cooperation across the bloc appear to be stagnating, according to a report by the European Defence Agency.
The finding, outlined in the agency’s latest Coordinated Annual Review on Defense Report, contradicts expectations that Russia’s assault on Ukraine has sharpened a sense of togetherness among European Union members when it comes to defense.
The report finds that as EU countries tend to extensively implement their defense plans at the national level, only 18 percent of all investment in security programs were conducted in cooperation, a decrease of 1 percent from 2020. In addition, no improved coherence of the EU defense landscape has been visible. The key factors identified as impacting nations’ decision making were primarily nationally defined requirements, followed by achieving NATO targets, and finally EU priorities. Many were said to consider European cooperation approaches as more difficult and time consuming, which ultimately results in them opting for national solutions or non-EU solutions.
A large portion of EU members are also NATO countries, and the alliance is seen as their primary multilateral orientation. However, the report warns that “even if all gaps reflected in NATO capability targets were closed by states, doing so without collaboration at the European level would not allow to overcome fragmentation and result in inefficiencies.”
The most commonly stated impediments to further cooperation were found to stem from the complexity of legislation, pressing timelines, budget availability and retention of personnel and experts in the fields of planning, procurement and research and technology (R&T).
Some positive trends were still highlighted in the report, including the significant growth in defense expenditure which rose to a combined €214 billion (USD 222 billion) in 2021 among participating member states and is poised to increase up to €284 billion (USD 295 billion) by 2025. EDA analysts predict that if pledged defense spending advancements are kept, member states could recover next year from the underspending of the previous decade.
Two distinct cooperation opportunities were said to have grabbed the interest of many countries: the proposal of creating long-lasting groups of member states to provide both stand-by troops and the possibility of conducting regular EU battlegroup exercises. In part, this would enable earlier planning of which groups and states are capable of contributing to the EU Rapid Deployment Capacity design. The other appealing prospect was the possibility of producing a standard syllabus to train partner nations, which could in the future be done either under the responsibility of multinational headquarters or existing collaborative frameworks with experience in such operations.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.