Federica Mogherini will unveil the EU defence fund today
Top EU officials will unveil plans to spend cash from the centralised budget on weapons and military equipment for the first time ever, marking a significant shift in the nature of the project.
Diplomats said the ultimate aim was to create a force which could rapidly intervene on behalf of Brussels in foreign war zones, citing simmering tensions in the Balkans as a particular concern.
Remain campaigners including former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg openly mocked claims by the Leave camp that Brussels was planning its own military force, deriding them as lies.
But EU Commission officials scarcely bother hiding their true intentions now that Britain has voted to leave the bloc, with defence having been catapulted to the top of the political agenda.
Today the club’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini – who has repeatedly denied the EU is creating an army – will unveil a modest £22 million fund directly from the Brussels budget, which is set to rise to £79 million by 2020, the last year of the EU’s current spending bloc.
But eurocrats have huge ambitions beyond that point and are pushing for a commitment of at least half a billion euros (£436m) a year to be included in the multi-annual financial framework (MFF) for 2020-2027.
It will be used for developing new weapons technologies, such as robotics and defence software, which will then be standardised across the bloc’s various militaries.
Alongside this fund, known as a “research window” in Brussels circles, eurocrats also want to create a “capability window” which will see member states coordinate more closely on procurement.
They hope to leverage around £4.4 billion in joint defence spending by getting member states to share the cost of new military hardware such as drones and helicopters.
One senior diplomat told Politico that building a viable army, and not reforming the troubled eurozone, was now the biggest priority for eurocrats in the years ahead.
They said that “the real test is going to be on defence and not on the euro”, adding that Brussels wanted to be able to intervene in areas like the Balkans without turning to NATO allies the US or Britain to take the lead.
The plans are also being supported by liberal MEP Urmas Paet, a former foreign minister of NATO member Estonia which is on the front line in the fight against Russian aggression.
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He said: “The fact the Commission together with member states are ready to move forward, to have real money and real resources is very positive. It is clearly, of course, a concrete signal.”
4,000 NATO troops take part in Lithuania’s largest exercise near Russia’s border Mon, November 28, 2016
Eleven NATO countries have sent 4,000 troops to Lithuania, the largest Baltic nation, to participate in this year’s Iron Sword exercises. The war games are meant to test the country’s ability to rapidly deploy a large number of troops.
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Members of the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade fire blanks from a machine gun during a simulated attack
Germany, France, Italy and Spain are all thought to now be strongly supportive of the plans, which are proceeding at pace now that Britain is no longer applying the brake to protect NATO.
And yesterday EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker reiterated his repeated calls for an EU army in light of the London terror attack, saying Europe needed to take control of its own defence.
He said: “For too long, Europe has been guilty of relying on the military might of others. That isn't sustainable.
"The scale and complexity of Europe's security challenges is such that no one country can successfully address them on its own.
"The EU must not only complement Nato but also react independently and appropriately to external threats."