EU Leaders Plan Military Overhaul After Pressure From Trump

ENLARGE

President-elect Donald Trump has said that Europeans need to do more on their responsibilities for defense, noted Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. Photo: Associated Press

BRUSSELS—European leaders approved plans aimed at stepping up military spending, which officials said is partly a response to pressure by the incoming Trump administration to shoulder more responsibility for the continent’s defense.

Still, reaching final agreement on the details in coming months could be tricky. Divisions remain within the bloc about how a new defense purchasing group would work, how costs would be divided and who would be able to use the new defense capabilities that emerge.

Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Europe knows “we have to do more and better” on military spending.

She said the bloc’s new defense plans, which include setting up a club of EU countries to create common defense assets, would be broader than many currently expect. It could prove a “game-changer” that would strengthen trans-Atlantic military cooperation.

“This can be part of the new transactional approach with the U.S. because [President-elect Donald] Trump is on the record saying that Europeans need to do more on their responsibilities for European defense,” she said.

European diplomats said the EU’s moves aren’t designed to compete with the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the defense of Europe, but will both boost the ability of the bloc to act on its own militarily without the U.S. and allow Europe to spend more on defense.

“This cooperation and deepening of investments into our defense industry is not in contradiction and not duplicating NATO activities and this is very good,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said on Thursday.

After the meeting, French President François Hollande called for more defense spending. “Europeans must reach 2%” of gross domestic product, he said.

With the European Council approval Thursday night, Ms. Mogherini will move forward with plans to create a new kind of “permanent structured cooperation” among members of the EU, that will allow them to come together to develop and purchase new weapons such as drones, refueling planes, helicopters and cyber capabilities.

While some diplomats have said only a handful of members of the EU may join the military cooperation group, known by the acronym Pesco, Ms. Mogherini said she thought it would ultimately be a large number of countries.

The cooperation bloc would allow member states to buy capabilities in larger numbers, reducing the cost, and therefore helping Europe to build up more military power. While European military spending lags far behind that of the U.S., some defense analysts say the bigger problem is that military spending in Europe is done inefficiently and countries often duplicate the capabilities of other countries.

“Given the security situation in Europe and around Europe all member states would find an interest in some sort of Pesco,” Ms. Mogherini said. “It is the economy of scale we need and we can have, for Europeans. There is not one single European member state that wouldn’t benefit from a permanent structured cooperation with others.”

EU leaders’ approval on Thursday will also allow the bloc to begin to make plans to use its standing battle groups of roughly 1,500 troops. Political divisions within the bloc have prevented the use of the units until now, but with the U.K. decision to leave the EU and the new defense moves set to be approved by European leaders, the path may be clearing.

Ms. Mogherini said if the EU doesn’t begin to use its battle groups, it is less likely that member states will continue contributing forces to the effort. With the world in crisis, Ms. Mogherini said 2017 could give the EU ample opportunity to deploy the force.

“I am not saying we have to use the battle groups so we deploy them whatever happens. But the opportunities to use rapid-reaction forces are not missing in this current time of crisis,” she said.

“Yes, I do not exclude that in 2017 we will use them,” she said.

Write to Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com and Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com

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