EU army setback: Brussels’ ‘joint military ambitions’ hit as defence budgets are slashed

Macron criticised over push for EU army by Italian MEP

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General Claudio Graziano, chairman of the EU Military Committee, said the prospect of slashed defence budgets and cancelled training missions has weakened the Continent’s ability to defend itself. In an interview, the Italian four-star general said the bloc has to step up its joint military schemes and a greater focus on new technologies. But in a blow to the EU’s ambitions to create a bloc-wide army, General Graziano conceded member states have to do more to counter modern-day threats.

He told the FT that the 2017 launch of a multibillion-euro fund for military equipment and tech research was a step in the right direction, “even if not as fast as I would like”.

“There is a clear understanding that we have to protect our technology, develop our technology and to maintain our technology superiority,” he added.

“If you want to be credible, you have to invest the right amount of money, particularly in research and development.”

General Graziano’s remarks come as many EU nations ponder how to pay for the vast debts run up as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Defence budgets in Europe increased in 2020 but are now likely to be slashed to help cover the costs of the health crisis, according to defence publication Janes.

The magazine has forecast a “noticeable slowdown” in defence spending this year.

General Graziano suggested the EU must continue to be ambitious if it wants to keep up with Chinese military reforms.

He noted that the rogue state’s officials have been engaged in “very long-term planning” to achieve their armed forces and technological ambitions.

Under Xi Jinping, Beijing is hoping to transform the People’s Liberation Army into a “world-class” force capable of winning wars anywhere in the world by 2050.

“That poses a security issue for all the world, and, of course, for the European Union, already now that we have to deal with in the short-to-medium perspective,” General Graziano said.

He noted that the EU would have to bolster its maritime security powers to help counter China’s claims to disputed territories in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

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The region is significant for global trade and also pose a threat of potential flash points between Beijing and Washington.

General Graziano said the EU needs to play a greater role in the area with a “more systematic presence”.

But he also proposed attempting to keep China on side by including it in counter-piracy efforts.

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“It is important to maintain China as the priority for the solution to global and regional challenges,” he added.

General Graziano, who leads the committee of defence chiefs from the EU’s 27 member states, was visiting South Korea to discuss ongoing security concerns in Asia.

This includes Kim Jong Un’s efforts to scale up North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, the crisis in Myanmar and China’s disputed claims to Taiwan and the South China Sea.

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