22 March 2021

A peace project that can be a Swedish challenge

EU aims to have a more active role in world politics. The European Peace Facility (EPF) will make it easier to provide support to the armed forces of the partner countries. But the EPF may run counter to the Swedish view of arms exports and force a Swedish “constructive abstention” within EU cooperation.

EU flags

EPF involves EUR 5 billion for a period that runs parallel to EU’s long-term budget for 2021–27, but which is outside the EU budget. Image from Shutterstock.

The proposal for the EPF funding mechanism was put forth in 2018 and is expected to be adopted by EU foreign ministers in a meeting on 22 March. It involves EUR 5 billion for a period that runs parallel to EU’s long-term budget for 2021–27, but which is outside the EU budget. Financing will come from EU’s member states, who will pay in proportion to their gross national incomes (GNI).

The EPF, which replaces the Athena Mechanism and the African Peace Facility, has three main areas it will contribute to:

  1. common costs for EU’s military operations;
  2. provision of support to peace support operations of partner countries;
  3. support for capacity-building of the partners’ armed forces, including military training, equipment and infrastructure.

This will make it possible, among other things, to provide better support to European Training Missions (EUTM). This involves training armed forces in countries such as Somalia, Mali and the Central African Republic. These missions have earlier suffered shortages in weapons and equipment. The memo, To Train and Equip Partner Nations – Implications of the European Peace Facility, by FOI researchers Eva Hagström Frisell and Emma Sjökvist and commissioned by the Swedish Ministry of Defence, relates how soldiers have been trained using wooden rifles and lacking uniforms, boots and water bottles. This is a type of shortcoming that reduces the impact of training and could cause soldiers to cross over to the enemy or return home.

Less bureaucracy

With the EPF, the EU as an organisation can also assist with arms and materiel to train the armed forces of partner countries. Previously, arms exports had to be detoured via individual EU states in bilateral agreements. But eventual arms deliveries can create some problems. One question is who will be responsible for the weapons, EU or the recipient country.

“The EU wants control. But too much bureaucracy and hassle may mean that the recipient countries would rather turn to countries such as Russia or Turkey,” says Eva Hagström Frisell.

There is a fear, of course, that the weapons may be turned against the civilian population or the country’s government. They could also be taken along by deserting soldiers, or sold, so that the soldiers could support their families.

“This is why we think it’s important that the recipient countries have systems for managing their personnel and giving them salaries that they can live on,” says Eva Hagström Frisell.

Arms export controls

There are also some challenges within the EU. For example, countries such as Ireland, Austria and Malta have arms export controls enshrined in their constitutions.

“And critics in countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands claim that arms exports can lead to undesirable consequences and run counter to the notion of EU as a peace project,” says Eva Hagström Frisell.

The EPF could create a unique situation for Sweden, which could require a “constructive abstention”, if a decision within the EPF, for example, were to conflict with Swedish priorities.

“Constructive abstention is a possibility contained in the EU Treaty, regarding the common foreign and security policy. It means that a country can abstain from a decision that requires unanimous approval, without applying a veto. Neither will the abstaining country be bound by the decision”, says Eva Hagström Frisell.

That would put Sweden in an unusual and, according to Eva Hagström Frisell, somewhat awkward situation.

“This is because Sweden wants to be part of the core of EU cooperation and the EU is our most important security policy arena.”