The European Peace Facility, an unsecured gun on EU’s table

On Monday evening March 21st, EU foreign ministers did two things: They suspended combat training of Malian soldiers by the EU training mission in Mali, just three months after they decided to boost it with €24 million. And they doubled the money available to provide arms for Ukraine to 1 billion. Both were decisions utilising the European Peace Facility, the union’s new tool for financing military engagements abroad.

They are a stark example of the risky game the EU is playing for influence in situations of massive regional instability.

As the crisis in Ukraine deepens, there is new public interest in EU military expansion. No other project stands as much for the EU’s shift from a peace project to a military power as the European Peace Facility (EPF). Investigate Europe has for months looked into this EU mechanism with its misleading name. Our findings, based on talks with numerous EU diplomats from several countries, show that it is still unfit for purpose, and that is led to hasty decision-making that is based on proposals which EU experts have learned about from quotes by their boss in the news.

Promotional video of the Strategic Compass, released by EAAS on 21 March 2022

Fighter jets not agreed

This was the case with the suggestion of EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, that the EU was preparing to contribute fighter jets to Ukraine as part of the first €500m military assistance package to Ukraine.

It was a barefaced suggestion made in a critical moment, after the EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting of Feb 27th.

“We have decided to use our capacities to provide arms, lethal arms, lethal assistance to the Ukrainian army for a value of €450 million support package and €50 million more for the non-lethal supplies – [such as] fuel and protective equipment”, Borrell said to journalists after the ministerial summit.

“This is the first time in history that we will be doing that. Everybody agreed – or at least did not obstruct – this decision”. He added: “We are going to supply arms and even fighter jets. We are not talking just about ammunition”. 

Borrell’s venture with the fighter jets left many top EU diplomats and government officials in the capitals scratching their heads, wondering if this was a slip of tongue or a clumsy spin. It also provoked the ire of many in Brussels who saw it as a sloppy handling of a critical moment that could have led to unnecessary escalation.

Rhio Terras, a conservative member of the European Parliament and ex-commander of Estonia’s military, circulated a draft letter where he questioned Borrell’s capacity to deliver as the EU’s foreign policy chief,  and even contemplated his resignation. A top member state official also called Borrell’s remarks “a mistake that certainly didn’t help”.

In the letter, Terras claims that the foreign affairs chief was pushing something that EU member states had not agreed to in the prior meetings. The agreement was to supply Ukraine with equipment like automatic rifles, air defense, ammunition, and mortars. Terras did not respond to questions for this article. Investigate Europe understands that his letter was not formally issued.

IE asked the European External Action Service (EEAS) if any expert groups have been consulted after the ministers’ decision to mobilise EPF for assistance measures to Ukraine, including lethal equipment, and before the High Representative’s public announcement of those measures, including the remarks about the delivery of fighter jets to Ukraine’s armed forces. An EAAS spokesperson responded that the service “does not comment on EEAS internal consultation procedures”, but that fighter- jets “are not being considered” in the context of EPF military support to Ukraine.

Borrell has shown strong support for EU’s militarisation. Effectiveness of policy proposals appears to concern him less, he has a history of pushing or even overstepping boundaries. Last September, in the shadow of US withdrawal from Afghanistan, he had to clarify whether he had called for the creation of a 50,000 strong EU army or a 5,000 force. No matter the size, Borrell’s answer suggested that he was aware that he was speaking about controversial ideas: “I would be lying to you if I’d say that today everybody agreed on that explicitly”. This proposal – of 5,000 troops in a rapid reaction force – was also rubber stamped by the EU foreign affairs ministers on that previously mentioned Monday, March 21st.

Disagreement in the details

IE’s discussions with EU experts and top member states diplomats reveals that although the decision to mobilise the European Peace Facility has been received with unity, not all EU counties are in line on the specifics.

Ireland, Malta and Austria abstained from providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, due to what seems to be legal barriers enshrined in their constitutions. Neither is the one billion euros a certain commitment. It will be a budget line available to reimburse weapons sent by individual member states to Ukraine.

Josep Borrell chairing a Defence Ministerial workshop on the Strategic Compass | © European Union, 2021

The exceptional circumstances have pushed aside concerns about the EPF’s and EAAS’s capacity to fully implement and monitor the Facility. A clearing hub has been set up in Poland to coordinate deliveries from member states to Ukraine. This hub also conveys Ukraine’s lists of needs. People who are monitoring the procedures say the speed and accuracy of implementation is remarkable for EU bureaucracy’s standards.

No time to check

In the face of extreme urgency, EU arms have already started pouring into Ukraine. But complications might occur after delivery. The German government had to backtrack on its promise to send 2,700 anti-aircraft missiles from the East German era to Ukraine when it became clear that many of them were unusable.

How will EPF monitor whether some of the weapons that member states deliver and bill for reimbursement from EPF, are not fit for purpose? One by one, our sources admit there was not time yet to get into this kind of nitty gritty. EEAS responds that “decisions on reimbursement are made unanimously by member states”.

No scrutiny by the European Parliament

The European Peace Facility was put in the works before Borrell took office. Its the brethren of his predecessor Federica Mogherini, born on the wave of EU’s militarisation raised by former Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Defense Union agenda. EPF was imagined as an instrument to maximise EU’s clout in geopolitical contested regions, mostly the Middle East and Africa.

EU’s Treaty article 41.2 explicitly says that the Union should not pay for war. Instead, the EPF has been engineered as a five billion “off budget” instrument. This means it is controlled by member states’ top officials in the European Council, paid by member states’ contributions, and managed by EEAS experts.

“The European Peace Facility still lacks parliamentary control”

Dirk Vopel, Bundestag Defence Committee

This way it also avoids the annoying scrutiny of the European Parliament and the EU’s constitutional constrains. National parliaments are supposed to exercise democratic controls in this case. But most national parliamentarians struggle when following the inner workings in Brussels. Dirk Vopel, who represents the SPD in the Bundestag Defence Committee, told Investigate Europe that “the Peace Facility still lacks parliamentary control” in Berlin, resulting in a lack of oversight on European level.

“Orderly disorientation”

There is not yet a fixed form on how things work, Investigate Europe was told. Various instruments are used on a case by case basis. A number of EEAS experts work on fact-finding and analysis to inform the decision-making.

They are also expected to perform post shipment monitoring. This is to make sure that material the EU sends to battlefronts, is not abused or diverted to black arms markets. Experts tell Investigate Europe that lacking human resources and expertise was an issue already before the invasion of Ukraine. Now they describe it as an urgency.

We asked EEAS about this. They responded that EEAS does not publicly comment on staff matters, “including on the profiles and experience of individual staff”.

EEAS and EU delegations will monitor whether the countries that receive military material, respect their commitments towards the EU. “Possible infringements, in particular violations of international humanitarian law (..) can also be reported by member state embassies and agencies, international organizations, partner countries and civil society”, EAAS said.

The first six months of EPF’s existence have been underpinned by “orderly disorientation”, experts say. In the world of vast and complicated EU bureaucracy, that is nothing new. This time, it has resulted in a rush at the end of 2021, to decide on a first round of military assistance measures. (See fact box on the bottom)

The Mali experience

It was the unravelling of plans to send military support to Mali through the EU’s military training mission present in the country since 2013, that made obvious how risky the EPF game can become. Despite evidence of severe wrongdoing by EU-trained soldiers, the EU expanded the mandate of the military EUTM mission to Mali in March 2020. The mission’s engagement remained intact even after a military coup took place in May 2021.

A few weeks after the 24 million euros of assistance measures were approved last December, the military government suspended the elections planned for February 2022, and announced a long term transition to democratic norms.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Wagner Group mercenaries, a paramilitary organization seen by many as part of Russia’s military apparatus, appeared in Mali. This forced EU partners to reconsider their engagement. At the end of 2021,  the EU also suspended its military training mission in the Central African Republic, fearing that EU-trained soldiers could be recruited by Wagner, also present there.

General view of the high-level meeting on the Sahel organised by EEAS | © European Union, 2014

The latest developments in Mali have made EEAS backpedal on the pending assistance measures. They also suspend the combat training of Malian soldiers until the government guarantees that whoever received training, would not end up working with Wagner.

EU’s u-turn in Mali has revealed weaknesses with EEAS’ risk analysis. The hints were in place. But the only country to react to the problems was Sweden. The Swedish government abstained from the decision to send military assistance to Mali already in December. Records obtained through an access to document request from the Swedish parliament, confirm the instructions to the country’s diplomats in Brussels. The Swedes cited lack of time to analyze the situation, as well as the appearance of Wagner mercenaries.

Instead of stabilising situations, EPF could entrench dictatorship and stoke conflict, say critics. As of May last year, Josep Borrell did not seem as worried. “We are not going to stop the terrorists from killing people just by preaching,” he said to the Financial Times. “We need arms. We need military capacities and that is what we are going to provide, to help our African friends. Because their security is our security.”

Weapons might get dispersed in the Ukraine war

It is hard to foresee geopolitical twists in the long run. Implementing EPF during active conflict, it is a nightmare. EU diplomats are aware of the risks. They also understand better than most how decisive it may be to deliver assistance to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.

But they are also concerned about not losing control. The backlash of EU-delivered equipment going rogue would be enormous and the possibilities vivid. Currently they are downplayed.

Before the war, Ukraine was the host of one of the largest illegal arms markets in Europe, especially for small arms and ammunition. It was a a place where US experts believe that end user monitoring (post-shipment verification) was very likely to fail.

The risks of dispersion or diversion of weapons increase significantly during war. State to state co-operation is supposed to be an additional guarantee. But in Afghanistan, weapons worth billions of dollars were diverted to the Taliban after US forces departed and the Afghan government collapsed last August, only to resurface and be sold openly by gun dealers.

The risk is that rushed decisions may backfire. These risks did so far not keep Borrell, nor the EU political leaders, from promising more money for immediate weapon help to Ukraine.  

On Monday March 21st, EU foreign ministers agreed to double down military support to the invaded country, with another €500 million from EPF. Technically, the idea ignores the EPF’s own financial rules as they were set a year ago.  But this is not Borrell’s problem. As he said to journalists at the Versailles meeting earlier this month, when initially proposing the extra money: “It is going to be immediately – now it flows quickly”.

Borrell has not responded to a request for comment for this article.

Fact box

The European Peace Facility was established in March 2021. It will finance military operations under EU’s Common foreign and security policy, by reimbursing member states’ expenses. The aim of EPF is to reinforce EU’s ability to prevent conflicts, build peace and strengthen international security. The financial ceiling of EPF 2021-2027 is €5,692 billion, rising from €420 million in 2021 to €1,132 bn in 2027.

In December 2021, EPF decided to give “non-lethal” support to these countries:

Moldova, €7 million

  1. Medical equipment for the Military Medical Service
  2. Explosive ordnance disposal equipment for the Engineer Battalion

Georgia, €12.75 million

  1. Medical equipment for Role 2 medical treatment facilities
  2. Engineer equipment kits for engineer squads and platoons
  3. Ground mobility assets of civilian type (pick-up)

Ukraine, €31 million (before the war)

  1. Military medical units (including field hospitals)
  2. Engineering units (including demining)
  3. Mobility and logistics units
  4. Cyber defence units

Mozambique, €40 million

Support for the military units trained by the EU military training mission in Mozambique

Mali, €24 million

In conjunction with the EU Training Mission

  1. Support to the Non Commissionned Officers Academy in Banankoro
  2. The renovation of training infrastructure in Sévaré-Mopti
  3. The provision of equipment not designed to deliver lethal force for three companies of 23rd Regiment of the 2nd military region of Mali, according to the Unitélégère de reconnaissance et d’intervention (ULRI) requirements

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on February 28, 2022, the EU Council decided to finance “lethal” support through EPF:

Ukraine, €500 million

Equipment and supplies to the Ukrainian armed forces

On March 21, the EU foreign ministers agreed to add another €500 million to finance arms and military equipment to Ukraine.

Source: EU Council, Euronews