March 5. 2024. 1:50

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EU seals deal on joint ammunition procurement for Ukraine

EU member states agreed on Monday (20 March) on a plan to give one million artillery shells to Ukraine within 12 months by digging into their own stockpiles and teaming up to buy more, according to a document seen by EURACTIV.

The deal is based on an EU-proposed three-track plan to spend €1 billion on shells from stockpiles and €1 billion more on joint procurement. The document specifies a set reimbursement rate for the member states delivering ammunition to Kyiv at 50-60%.

According to the document, seen by EURACTIV, member states agreed on the plan “with the aim to, in particular, speed up the delivery and joint procurement aiming at one million rounds of artillery ammunition for Ukraine in a joint effort within the next twelve months”.

A third track is intended to secure the long-term increase in European ammunition production and bolster production in their defence industries to help keep deliveries flowing further down the line.

It also called for “the swift implementation of these three tracks which are interlinked and need to be pursued in parallel and in a coordinated way”.

The EU countries agreed to “urgently deliver ground-to-ground and artillery ammunition to Ukraine and, if requested, missiles”.

Member states that deliver ammunition would be in total reimbursed up to €1 billion for the delivery of ammunition from their own stocks to Kyiv.

They called “for the reimbursement of donated material from existing stocks or from reprioritisation of existing orders delivered before 31 May 2023 and, thus, ensuring solidarity”.

This would incentivise member states to provide ammunition from their stocks by this date, an EU diplomat told EURACTIV.

After that time, “any unused funds may allow for the reimbursement of all lethal equipment, in accordance with the priorities set in Ukraine’s list of requirements”.

Member states also agreed to jointly procure 155mm ammunition “and, if, requested, missiles” for Ukraine “in the fastest way possible before 30 September 2023 via the European defence industry and Norway”.

EU ammunition plan for Ukraine runs into third country issues

EU foreign and defence ministers on Monday (20 March) are expected to sign off on a €2-billion plan to raid their stockpiles and jointly purchase much-needed artillery shells for Ukraine, but some continue to voice doubts over the exclusion of third-country suppliers.

At Monday’s ministerial meeting, a group of 17 EU member states – Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden – plus Norway signed a document known as a project arrangement, setting out the terms of reference for a joint endeavour to buy 155 mm ammunition, led by the EU’s European Defence Agency (EDA).

More member states are likely to join, EU officials say, with Borrell stressing that some of them were not able to “due to practical reasons” or the absence of their ministers.

Besides the EDA, member states will also be allowed to move under a so-called ‘lead nation’ with consortiums composed of at least three member states (and Norway) to procure ammunition for Ukraine.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said his country would be among those joining the joint procurement initiative, describing it as “new territory” for the EU.

He said Germany would also open its national framework contracts with the defence industry to other partners as speed was of the essence.

“Our goal has to be to ship a significant amount of munitions to Ukraine before the end of this year,” he said.

Both moves mark a significant step in EU integration as defence procurement in the EU has largely been in the hands of individual member governments until now.

EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell hailed the ministers’ approval of the plan as a “historic decision”.

“This is clear proof of the EU’s determination behind Ukraine’s right to self-defence,” he told reporters in Brussels.

Non-EU countries excluded

According to the document, the initiative aims at procuring systems only in EU countries and Norway, according to the draft lacking the mention of third-country inclusion.

The issue had been contentious in the run-up to Monday’s meeting, with two member states – Italy and the Netherlands – unable to give their final approval due to concerns.

EU foreign and defence ministers ask the European Commission to come up with “concrete proposals to urgently support the ramp-up of manufacturing capacities of the European defence industry, secure supply chains, facilitate efficient procurement procedures, address shortfalls in production capacities and promote investments, including, where appropriate, mobilising the Union budget”.

Member states also agreed to consider a further increase of the overall financial ceiling of the European Peace Facility (EPF) by €3.5 billion, which is likely to be discussed by EU leaders at a summit later this week.

This comes after the two first tracks of the plan would exhaust a top-up agreed upon in December, which was meant to cover 2023.

Going beyond?

“We have to admit that a million shells are a minimum of what Ukraine needs – but this is still far from what Ukraine needs to make a difference on the ground and support their offensive,” Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told EURACTIV.

According to Reinsalu, the agreed plan would be an example of the EU now following a “systematic approach to address Ukrainian military needs”.

“So, there is a need to combine this [initiative] with others,” Reinsalu said, in reference to further military support outside of the EU’s three-track plan.

However, military experts point out that Ukraine is likely to face a prolonged war of attrition.

Asked earlier this month whether the joint procurement plans to secure fast delivery of ammunition could go beyond artillery shells and towards more heavy weaponry, Borrell said the EU “could be equally fast for other needs“.

“If this modus operandi shows to be functional, it could be replicated for other types of ammunition and other types of weaponry,” Reinsalu said.