March 4. 2024. 11:52

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Commission to know EU defence industry capacities in 2-3 weeks, Breton says

The European Commission is expected to know in two to three weeks how to proceed with plans to ramp up European arms production, which would also help secure a quick and steady supply to Ukraine, the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told EURACTIV Slovakia.

Since last week, Breton has embarked on a ‘defence tour’ across member states to assess the state of industry capacities, with the aim to visit the 15 companies in 11 member states that would be capable to increase their domestic armaments production according to current and future needs.

Zelenskyy’s government has told its Western allies that it urgently needs large amounts of ammunition as it fights a fierce war of attrition with invading Russian forces.

Officials have warned that Ukraine is burning through shells at a faster rate than its allies can produce them, prompting a renewed search for ammunition and ways to boost production.

Breton said with his visits across the bloc he intends “to see how to increase the capacities in the plans, evaluate their credibility, and then make sure that we’ll be able to provide financial support and also logistics support to increase the EU´s capacity to produce what is necessary for Europe”.

“Afterwards, we will evaluate with the European Commission if we need to have the dedicated legal act to ease the ramping up of the defence industry,” Breton, who is supposed to finalise the trip in the coming two to three weeks, told EURACTIV Slovakia.

The European Commission is also expected to propose a European Defence Investment Plan (EDIP) to help the bloc’s industry invest in ramping up its production end of June.

The timeline for the bloc to work on the third track of the EU-proposed plan “is to do so immediately”, Breton added.

His comment came as EU leaders were expected to give their blessing to the EU-proposed three-track plan – agreed by the bloc’s foreign and defence ministers on Monday – to send one million artillery shells to Ukraine over the next year by digging into stocks and making a landmark move into joint procurement.

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

European Council President Charles Michel said in his letter inviting EU leaders to the summit that “we will need to take measures to boost the manufacturing capacity of the European defence industry”.

Asked about some member states´ apparent unwillingness to participate, including Hungary, which stated outright it does not want to contribute to supplying more weapons to Ukraine, Breton said that “every country in the EU that has a defence industry intends to participate in the plan”.

Still, Breton added he knows “that Hungary has some defence industry and I also know they would be interested in participating”.

Asked about the challenges in supply chain and raw materials, such as scarce supplies of gunpowder, plastic explosives, and TNT, which the European defence industry has pointed out, Breton confirmed the EU is “evaluating all solutions, including the opportunity to create a new (“from scratch”) capacities,” in some member states.

Third-country issue

As speed is of the essence for a fast supply of ammunition to Ukraine from member states’ current stocks, questions remain about the feasibility of excluding third country-suppliers from the deal.

Several member states’ defence ministry representatives, including Slovakia, stressed after Monday’s agreement that until internal European production capacities are increased, there should also be talks with manufacturers from outside of Europe to fill immediate gaps.

However, the legal document, seen by EURACTIV earlier this week, foresees that even the ‘lead nation’-model won’t enable equipment from third countries to be reimbursed under the European peace facility, an off-budget fund.

Reflecting on the ongoing discussion of the possibility to purchase ammunition for Ukraine from a third country, Breton stressed he would only be responsible for the plan that deals with ramping up the EU’s defence industry.

Asked how to combine their, perhaps contradictory, goals – supplying Ukraine as fast as possible and prioritising support for the European defence industry – Breton stressed it “would not fall in his responsibility”.