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The European Defence Fund is not about taking money from European Farmers nor is it about funding for a European Army – Hayes

Brian Hayes MEP speaking to the IIEA in Dublin Friday June 22 on new funding opportunities for the Irish Defence Forces from the next EU Budget 2021-2027.

“The battle lines for the upcoming EU budget negotiations are already shaping up. Member States are currently considering key questions such as: what will be the size of the overall 7-year budget? Which areas will suffer cuts and which will get increases?

“Tony Blair once described the EU budget negotiations as akin to World War III because of the endless haggling between EU institutions. This time it must be different. We don’t have the luxury of thinking that its business as usual.

“I’m calling on all of the players – Council, Commission and Parliament – to do the impossible and come to an agreement on the EU budget by the time of the European Parliament elections in May 2019. That one act, more than anything else, would send out a strong signal that the EU is getting ahead of the next crisis. That the EU is changing.

“There are always new priorities for funds and for common EU action. A budget that doesn’t change is a budget that is not fit-for-purpose.

“For Ireland, now a net contributor since 2014, we have now entered a new phase in the EU Budget. Many will ask why we should be paying more. It is more than likely that over the course of the next 7-year budget, that our overall net contribution to the EU budget from 2020-2027 might be somewhere between €2- 3 billion.

“Irish politicians have a duty to prepare the public for the debate. We need to explain why we must show solidarity to other poorer regions. That developing the single market is good for Irish exporters and good for Irish/EU investment.

“What the Taoiseach said in Strasbourg last January is highly significant. On behalf of the government, he said he was prepared to increase our contribution to the EU Budget, assuming that our priorities, especially in the area of agricultural payments to farmers, were maintained. It was a strong message of solidarity. The same solidarity that for over 40 years delivered €70billion to Ireland.

“I predict that a new political narrative will emerge over the coming months. There will be an attempt from Eurosceptic politicians to argue that EU budget is about increasing funding for defence at the expense of our farmers. In short, the narrative will be based on a lie that tanks and guns have won out against CAP payments for farmers.

“It will all be about pretending to the Irish public that new priorities, such as: migration, cyber security and defence against terrorism, can be resolved without new money and without new EU common action. And that any agreement by Ireland to a future budget with this kind of expenditure will undermine our neutrality.

“There is a responsibility on the pro-EU political parties and leaders here in Ireland not to fall into this Eurosceptic trap. We have to explain why these new priorities are needed. And why also Ireland could significantly gain, especially with the proposed new European Defence Fund (EDF).

“The truth is that security and defence is a major concern for EU citizens. We have to use the EU budget as an instrument of policy to work better in this area together and to protect EU citizens.

“Total spending on both the European Defence Fund and on the new transport military infrastructure, will be about €19 billion or about 1.5% of the total budget over the next 7 years. Set against just the CAP budget of €370 billion, the EDF is still a tiny fraction of overall EU spending and is no substitute for Member State spending in this area. But it does encourage Member States to work together and to collaborate on security and defence.

“It encourages better cooperation, cost saving among Member States and better technology in the area of defence. Crucially from Ireland’s perspective, there will be an opportunity to involve SMEs in joint projects. As we recently highlighted in our Fine Gael MEP Defence Paper, Ireland already has many businesses involved in this area.

“The new European Defence Fund is split between research spending around emerging new threats and co-financing projects which help collaborative capability. None of this impinges upon our neutrality. But if properly applied, it could make a big difference to our security needs and help our Defence Forces get value for money and better economies of scale. For Ireland, we spend about 0.3% of GDP of Defence; we are bottom of the EU league so any potential new area of funding should be welcomed.

“Ireland could get financial help in the following areas through the EDF:

  • Maritime surveillance, already a pilot project of PESCO, could be developed because of our vast coastline, especially in the area of Air Corps capability and naval cooperation.
  • A military grade all-island radar coverage system, working with the UK and the EU along the lines similar to NORDEFCO that involves Norway and other EU Scandinavian member states.
  • The development of a centre of excellence in the Curragh, building on our work in peacekeeping in the UN/EU and the expertise of the Military College.
  • Funding for both cyber security best practice and more R&D aimed at countering cyber-attacks.

“Of course these are just examples. But it highlights if we are organised and if we work within groups of EU member states, that a new opportunity exists.

“The traditional protection provided by the US to the EU is no longer certain. As larger EU Member States increase spending in this area, countries like Ireland are exposed to international terrorist organisations, because we may be seen as a soft target. Given the enormous US multinational footprint in Ireland, we do have particular vulnerabilities.

“The European Defence Fund could be turned to our advantage. It could provide a new line of much needed funding in this new and dangerous world. It could be the key for greater collaboration for our Defence Forces. It could help us to excel at the things that we currently do, especially in peacekeeping. It is not a brave new EU militarization, but a cautious, common sense and proportionate response to Europe’s security challenges. That is why this debate is so important.”

 

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