June 21. 2024. 5:36

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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.

Buying weaponry together on this scale represents a major new step for the EU, with member states wrangling over details during the last few weeks.

The first part of the three-track EU-proposed plan involves committing a further €1 billion of shared funding to get EU states to tap their already stretched stocks for ammunition that can be sent quickly.

The second part would see the bloc use another €1 billion to order 155-millimetre shells for Ukraine as part of a massive joint procurement push to spur firms to ramp up production.

The question has been whether the European Defence Agency (EDA) or member states would negotiate the orders and if they should buy only from European producers.

According to EU officials, 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.

EU ambassadors met on Sunday (19 March) evening to hammer out the remaining issues. Still, two member states – Italy and the Netherlands – could not give their final approval due to concerns over excluding the option to buy from non-European suppliers.

After consultations with capitals overnight, EU foreign ministers were expected to discuss the text in order to greenlight it before their joint session with defence ministers.

“Under both models, it would be impossible to buy products from companies of non-EU countries,” one EU diplomat said.

“The worry is that if this is written into the model, we will limit ourselves in helping Ukraine,” the same diplomat said.

Several EU diplomats, however, said they hoped ministers would give their stamp of approval at their talks later on Monday afternoon, representing the first concrete step since Estonia proposed the idea in February and the EU diplomatic service proposal a few weeks ago.

EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said upon arrival at the meeting that there needed to be a deal, “otherwise, we will be in difficulties in order to continue supplying arms to Ukraine.”

“We have to help Ukraine more, quicker and now,” France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said.

How much is in the stocks?

After 12 months of eating into their stockpiles, there are questions about how much EU countries can share immediately without leaving themselves vulnerable.

Member states have already committed a wide range of military support worth €12 billion to Ukraine, with €3.6 billion from the European Peace Facility (EPF), a joint fund to help cover the costs.

Officials say that since the invasion last February, €450 million has been spent on supplying 350,000 shells.

Some capitals, however, also worry that the amounts of ammunition left in the continent’s stockpiles are not worth €1 billion, raising the question of what will happen to “money left on our hands”, two EU sources explained.

This worry stems from the fact that the EU27 are unaware of the total amount of ammunition left in their own individual stocks, as this information is confidential.

“There is a real issue regarding the level of our stockpiles, EU senior official admitted, saying several member states have also expressed such worries.

Some are pushing to introduce a “sunset clause”, EURACTIV has learned.

This way, after a certain amount of time, the money left could be used for other purposes related to military aid to Ukraine, such as reimbursing member states for deliveries of any materials.

Another idea would be to use the rest of this money for equipment other than 155mm and 152mm calibre ammunition, as well as use the other €1 billion for joint procurement for more than only 155mm calibre ammunition.

But although a majority of the EU27 wishes to maintain the focus on Ukraine’s urgent needs, some make a point to include the potential delivery and purchase of other types of equipment.

France, in particular, has also pushed to include surface-to-air missiles.

Unknown lead times and targets

Key to getting countries to deplete their stocks is convincing them that European industry can produce more.

EU officials hope that with its aggregated demand, it will negotiate joint procurement contracts with the industry that will reprioritise the production line and redirect production towards Ukraine.

Brussels says EU firms need to switch to “war economy mode” after scaling back in the years following the end of the Cold War.

Industry representatives, meanwhile, complained that member states still need to sign the long-term contracts they need to invest in more production lines.

“It is clear the EU has the same capacity the procure on its territory the required and needed equipment and lead times as outside the EU”, according to an EU diplomat referring to an “assessment by the European Commission.

The deal shall be ”without prejudice to the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States”, the leaders are to say at their meeting on Thursday (23 March), according to a draft seen by EURACTIV.