Track Two Of EU Ammunition Plan Stalls Over Legal Definitions
By Alexandra Brzozowski
(EurActiv) — While EU member states agreed to jointly procure ammunition for Ukraine last month, they still have not decided on legal details, such as who the contracts should be awarded to.
EU ambassadors met on Wednesday (5 April) to discuss legal details of the bloc’s recently agreed on ammunition procurement plan, compiled in recent weeks amid fears that Ukraine is running out of ammunition to counter Russia’s spring offensive.
The first part of the three-track EU-proposed plan involved committing a further €1 billion of shared funding to get EU member states to tap their already stretched stocks for ammunition that can be sent quickly.
The agreement’s legal text is expected to be officially published next week, according to several EU diplomats and officials with knowledge of the discussions.
However, EU ambassadors could not also finalise the legal details for the second part of the plan, which is set to 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 domestic production.
Member states still need to agree on whether the ammunition procurement contracts would go exclusively to EU companies or be open to outside manufacturers, according to several EU diplomats and officials close to the matter who spoke to EURACTIV.
The proposal text, seen last month by EURACTIV, had referred to “joint procurement of 155 mm artillery rounds and if requested, missiles for Ukraine in the fastest way possible before 30 September 2023 from the European defence industry (and Norway)”.
“The main issue remains the legal definition of what ‘European industry’ would mean in practice,” an EU diplomat told EURACTIV.
France, in particular, has been pushing for the money to stay within EU borders and advocating for specifying the legal term, several sources said.
The initial EU proposal text, before being agreed by EU member states in March, had specified this to be ‘economic operators established in the EU and Norway’, later defined as ‘European industry’.
The phrasing was acceptable to everyone back then, but France would like to see more legal restrictions, one EU official told EURACTIV.
Meanwhile, the bloc’s legal services have warned ambiguity about the term in the legal text could lead to companies invoking unfair competition.
Greece and Cyprus have expressed sympathy for the French position, likely to avoid contracts going to Turkish arms manufacturers.
Despite the legal haggling, EU ambassadors are expected to agree on the final text within the next two weeks, before the bloc’s foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg to further discuss Ukraine support, several EU diplomats said.
However, since the ammunition plan was proposed earlier this year, there have been concerns that the EU’s defence industry lacks the capacity to quickly produce the number of shells needed to meet the declared target.
This also comes partly because information about the current volume of the EU member states’ individual ammunition stocks is considered confidential and rarely shared publicly.
Member states expect the European Commission to present a clearer picture of the existing production capacity across the bloc before signing off on the legal text.
Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, who has been touring a dozen EU member states and visited their industrial sites over the past weeks, is expected to present a proposal for the third track of the plan later this month.
This third track is meant to explore ways to boost Europe’s ability to manufacture required arms and ammunition that would be needed over the long term.
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This is the European response to emergencies we’ve all come to know.