EU army cost: The biggest and smallest European military spenders – data

Defence expert on UK maintaining weapons on Scottish soil

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The European Union pulled out of Afghanistan last month alongside US troops. Now calls to create an EU military force have been ignited in the wake of the decision. But collaboratively EU defence expenditure dropped in 2019 – with nations instead opting to undertake expenditure in their own countries. has analysed European data to calculate the biggest and lowest spenders when it comes to defence sectors.

In 2019, defence expenditure hit 1.2 percent of GDP both for the EU27 and the Euro area.

Outgoings has been stable for both areas throughout the 2013 to 2019 period – but has decreased as a ratio to GDP compared to 1995 when it was 1.6 percent of GDP.

As a share of total expenditure, EU defence expenditure amounted to 2.9 percent in 2019 and 2.5 percent in the Euro area.

This represents the highest levels of total expenditure on defence for both the EU and EFTA countries in 15 years.

In total, 23 out of 26 EDA member states raised defenced expenditures compared to 2018 – four of which were by more than £850m (€1bn)

The highest rates of defence expenditure were observed in Estonia at 2.1 percent of GDP, followed by Greece at 2.0 percent of GDP.

Norway, Latvia and Cyprus were next with 1.9 percent, 1.9 percent and 1.8 percent of GDP respectively.

Both France and Romania had defence expenditure of 1.7 percent of GDP.

The lowest defence expenditure was from Ireland with just 0.2 percent of GDP, followed by Luxembourg with 0.4 percent.

Technically, Iceland reported the lowest level of expenditure on defence, as it does not have a standing army – at 0.1 percent of GDP.

The UK’s defence expenditure was not included in the report due to Brexit – but the UK spent a total of £38bn which equates to 2.1 percent of the national GDP.

This puts the UK at the third-highest of the NATO countries behind the US and Greece.

The UK’s breakdown of defence expenditure in 2019 was as follows:

  • Service personnel: 25.7 percent
  • Equipment support: 18.6 percent
  • Specialist military equipment: 15.5 percent
  • Infrastructure: 11.4 percent
  • Property and other equipment: 8.6 percent
  • Other: 5.8 percent
  • Civilian personnel: 4.9 percent
  • Research and development: 3.5 percent
  • Inventory: 3.3 percent
  • Defence equipment and support: 2.7 percent.

The budget was increased to £41.5bn for the 2020/2021 year and was expected to remain at this level for the following year.

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Overall in 2019, the EU spent £35.33bn (€41.4bn) on defence investments including equipment procurement and research and development – an uplift of 19 percent compared to 2018, according to the report published in January 2021.

EDA member states reached the 20 percent benchmark for total defence expenditure on defence investment for the first time since 2010 – hitting 22 percent overall.

Member states were allocated 83.1 percent of defence investments to procure new equipment.

This left 16.9 percent for defence research and development.

EDA Chief Executive, Jiří Šedivý said: “European defence spending reaching a new high is a positive development and clear response to Member States’ threat perception.

“Despite this progression, defence budgets remain vulnerable, with the economic impact of COVID-19 yet to be felt. Increased spending on defence is a positive trend that should be sustained and enhanced going forward with the additional benefit of the EU defence initiatives.

“The regular review in the CARD framework and the fulfilment of the PESCO commitments should contribute positively to better spending and ultimately to the cooperative development of innovative, interoperable and effective capabilities.”

But despite the rise in total defence expenditure, there was a drop in collaborative defence spending.

Member States conducted just 20 percent of their total equipment procurement in cooperation with the other EU Member States in 2019, falling well short of the 35 percent collective benchmark.

This figure also marks a significant drop off from the relatively high 27 percent recorded in 2017.

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