EU chief estimates European Union defense needs at 500 billion euros

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EU chief Ursula von der Leyen told leaders Thursday that the bloc needs to invest 500 billion euros ($535 billion) in the next decade to bolster its defenses.

European Union countries are pushing to ramp up their defense industries and rearm their militaries in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after years of underinvestment.

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“We estimate that additional defense investments of around 500 billion euros are needed over the next decade,” von der Leyen said.

The head of the EU’s executive did not, however, provide a detailed breakdown of what her projected sum covered.

“We didn’t see spreadsheets, we didn’t see details, this is pie in the sky money,” an EU diplomat said.

There is also no clarity as yet on how the EU would finance the investment -- with options being mooted including national spending or joint EU defense bonds.

There is a standoff over whether the EU should consider joint borrowing, similar to how it financed its recovery program after the Covid pandemic.

“Several countries, including France and Estonia, are in favor of Eurobonds,” an EU official said. “But Germany and the Netherlands are against.”

“None of these options are easy, but all of them have to be looked at with the political will to decide what to do together, but they have to be looked at seriously,” von der Leyen said.

EU countries have already increased their defense spending in the decade since Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

That trend has accelerated since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, with a sharp increase in the number of EU countries hitting NATO’s target of spending two percent of GDP on defense.

The bloc’s defense agency says EU countries spent a total of 240 billion euros on defense in 2022.

The increases in EU defense spending in recent years have nonetheless been dwarfed by those of China and Russia.

“If you look at the combined EU spending on defense from 1999 to 2021 so in three years, it increased by 20 percent in that same timeframe, China’s defense spending increased by almost 600 percent and Russia’s defense spending by almost 300 percent,” said von der Leyen.

“This is even before Russia massively increased over the last two years its defense spending.”

As part of its push to bolster defense industries across the bloc, the EU is looking to appoint commissioner dedicated to working on the issue.

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