Blog AnalysisNational Defense

Europeans spend more on their defence. And better? Six sightings

(B2) We have carefully read the latest statistics produced by the European Defense Agency. Even if they only concern the years 2015 and 2016, they are interesting. Here are some lessons that we can draw from it, which differ significantly from the official atmosphere, always conducive to optimism.

First lesson: A deficit of almost 20 billion compared to 2005

Despite a clear increase in defense spending, European countries have not yet really caught up with the six years of restriction (2008-2013). And these figures must be taken with great caution, because they are often based on current figures (excluding inflation) and do not take into account enlargements. If we take actual figures into account, the rise is slower. The deficit is still 18,4 billion in 2016 compared to the figures for 2005.

Second lesson: A fall notable of the weight of defense in the GDP in ten years

While in 2006, Europeans spent 1,8% of their GDP on defense, in 2016 this figure only reached 1,43%. Despite all the budget increases, and the clarion call started by the NATO authorities, it has remained almost stable over the last three years. This is due to two elements: certain large countries only slightly increase their defense budget, but above all the increase in growth has canceled out the gains from the increase. This means that the Europeans have stabilized the decline but have not yet managed to recover the drastic cuts made in recent years.

Third lesson: The variable defense of adjustment of public expenditure

Representing almost 4% of public spending in 2005 (3,88%), defense spending rose to almost 3% in 2014 (2,97%) before rising slightly in 2016 above the 3% mark (to 3,08%). This drop confirms an impression felt in a number of armies: in the effort of budgetary restrictions, defense has provided more than its share of the effort.

Fourth lesson: A sluggishness in external engagement

The number of deployed soldiers is constantly decreasing. Today it is 32.000, the lowest figure in ten years (by far)! The same goes for the cost of operations which has decreased considerably in a few years: 5,3 billion in 2016. This is half less than the peak of 2011 but also below the amount of 6,7 billion euros in 2006, before arises in Iraq and then in Afghanistan and the major CSDP operations in 2008-2009, and the financial crisis.

Fifth lesson: Low investment in research

Research and technology (R&T) spending decreased steadily from 2006 to 2016, from 2,7 billion euros to 2,1 or 2,2 billion euros, depending on the year. They thus painfully reached rates of 1,06% (2015) and 1,0% (2016) of defense spending against 1,32% in 2006. That is to say half of the set objective. This is insufficient to make a difference.

Sixth lesson: Faced with the financial crisis, the withdrawal

The different 'benchmarks'(objectives) set by the European Union are not achieved, particularly in terms of working together. Public contracts awarded jointly barely reached 16% in 2015 compared to almost 21% in 2006, or around half of the set objective (35%). Research and technology (R&T) carried out in collaborative mode also declined, from 16,6% in 2008 (the highest peak) to 7,2% of R&T expenditure in 2015, far from the 20% objective. .

Joint work is therefore not only not developed, but it is in decline. This confirms that faced with the financial crisis, States preferred to carry out their calls for tenders alone – allowing them to have control of the timetable, the specifications… and the final beneficiary – than to resort to calls in common, more cumbersome to implement and more risky in terms of return.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

To find out more, read our complete analysis on B2 pro: Defence, Opex, Research… How much is Europe investing? 2015 and 2016 figures analyzed

Photo credit: Ministry of Defense of Bulgaria – May 2013

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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