Ukraine tops list of EU ministers’ five defence priorities

European Union defence ministers on Tuesday agreed five broad priorities for Europe’s defence, including support for Ukraine.

The “EU’s unwavering support to Ukraine” is the first priority mentioned in the member states’ announcement, which was agreed at a meeting of defence ministers in Brussels on Tuesday. “The EU will use all tools at its disposal,” a press release said.

Among these tools is an off-budget fund called the European Peace Facility, under which the EU has pledged €5 billion ($5.4 billion) worth of military aid to Ukraine. However, payments are being held up by Hungary. Each EU member state has a veto over the legislation required to begin payments.

“This delay can be measured in terms of human lives,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday, after a meeting of EU foreign ministers. “We have agreed that the Hungarian contribution to the European Peace facility will not be used to supply military support to Ukraine.”

The Dutch government announced on Tuesday that it will lead an initiative among some European countries to supply a Patriot air defence missile system to Ukraine.

“Ukraine, of course, is still under attack. Airstrikes continue,” said Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren as she arrived at the defence ministers’ meeting. “Patriot systems are scarce in Europe and NATO, but we are now taking a step forward, so we will supply components of Patriot systems,” she said.

A press release from the Dutch Ministry of Defence said “the Netherlands has identified which countries could offer additional Patriot parts and munitions” in order to deliver a complete system to Ukraine. It does not mention which countries are involved.

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of the NATO military alliance, said air defence is the “most urgent need.” He said EU countries are “stepping up the delivery of ammunition, air defence systems, and in particular, the most advanced ones, the Patriot systems.” Stoltenberg took part in the defence ministers’ meeting on Tuesday.

Next on the defence ministers’ priority list is strengthening the EU’s industrial capacity to produce armaments and defensive technologies. The declaration “stresses the vital need to improve access to public and private finance” for the European defence industry.

In March, the European Commission proposed a €1.5 billion plan to strengthen Europe’s armaments industry, in order that it might be better equipped to defend itself and to arm Ukraine.

Third on the list is allowing the EU itself to do more in the domain of security and defence policy, which is mostly a national matter. The EU points to the recently-launched EU naval mission ASPIDES, which aims to protect commercial shipping from attacks by Houthi militants operating in the Red Sea.

Fourth is bolstering the EU against hybrid warfare, such as foreign disinformation and cyber warfare.

Fifth, defence ministers want to see the EU “strengthen, deepen and expand” defence partnerships with organizations such as the UN and NATO.

Ministers also agreed to renew existing sanctions against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, extending the expiry date by another year to June 1, 2025. The sanctions target 316 people and 86 organizations.

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