The defence spending conundrum

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 March, 2024 at 10:35 pm by Andre Camilleri

Last week, the European Council met in Brussels to give a political direction on various agenda items, inter alia defence spending, as well as Ukraine’s needs.

When I had a look at the European Council Conclusions it transpired that the decision was to increase research spending in defence under Competitiveness, that comes out of the EU Budget. As I have already explained in my preceding articles, the EU Budget cannot finance lethal equipment. The treaty of Lisbon is clear, and there are no two ways about it. This means that, when the Opposition is saying that the Prime Minister says one thing in Malta and does another in Brussels, is incorrect.

The point of departure is not the increase in defence spending under Competitiveness, but what type of defence spending. There are two branches of defence spending. Those that are financed through the EU Budget, and those that are financed outside of the EU Budget. Importantly, the prime minister spoke against the supply of lethal weapons, which is the philosophy that Labour Party followed throughout the years when it comes to foreign policy, and to promote peace and dialogue beyond the provision of military equipment. Else, I wouldn’t have submitted my candidature with the PL if it were the contrary.

In the beginning of the 1980s the Labour Party insisted to include a paragraph on the “neutrality clause” in our Constitution. Hence, the point of departure in an argument must always be the type of defence spending, whether it relates to lethal weapons or the increase in defence spending on cyber security, countering hybrid threats, and other areas of non-dual use technology. Also, it is important to note that the European Council’s format, and the accompanying decisions, as well as Conclusions, are agreed by consensus. If a member state does not agree then we have a problem because the entire European Council is halted from taking any decision. Malta’s consensus on the increase in defence spending is in line with our Constitution because it will not supply lethal equipment, that is, military. Otherwise, even the EU will be breaching the Treaty of Lisbon if they decide to finance lethal weapons from the EU Budget.

Additionally, member states pay separate bilateral contributions to finance lethal weapons, which is covered under the instrument, ironically called, the European Peace Facility. However, the financing of the EPF is not captured by the EU Budget. The funds are outside of the financial architecture of the EU Budget, and they have a separate financial regulation. However, Malta, Ireland and Austria do not pay for lethal weapons. When I was posted as Ambassador of Malta to the Political and Security Committee of the EU, representing the Maltese government, I objected to finance lethal weapons, and introduced a safeguard, along with other member states to constructively abstain in Council, when such proposals reach our committee. Hence, even if at European Council level, the Prime Minister does not block the decision of supplying third countries with additional supplies of military equipment, that is financed outside of the EU Budget, we still have a special safeguard in Council to not finance lethal weapons.

Obviously, the Nationalist Party know that under the spirit of cooperation, the Prime Minister cannot block what other member states decide to do with their own money, given that we have our own safeguards. It is their money. They can finance whatever they want. Had the Prime Minister blocked the European Council decisions, they would have said that Malta is looking like Hungary. We cannot block what other member states do without providing any reasons and solutions. Additionally, the Prime Minister consulted the State Advocate’s Office before agreeing, which outlined that our “neutrality clause” must be respected. Another safeguard in the European Council relates to Point 18, which refers to the strengthening of defence versus the transatlantic security and NATO, which state that it is without prejudice to the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states, indirectly referring to Malta, Ireland and Austria.

I have been trying to explain these technicalities for the past six months. However, it seems that nobody is understanding the complex topic. And this is beyond what Eward Debono said, that of masking the truth. Indeed, when I was invited to the programme Linja Diretta on Smash TV, I exposed an email dating 10 June 2019, whereby I was informing my superior about the implications of financing lethal equipment. Back then I consulted the Attorney General’s Office (it was not yet split) to see whether we will be in breach of our Constitution. Surely, five years ago, I sniffed where they wanted to go when it comes to defence spending, and I included such safeguards, way in advance. At least I served the interests of my country diligently.

On the other hand, when the Prime Minister spoke of military equipment that is being supplied to other member states, he was referring to the same military equipment that the President of the European Parliament spoke of in front of President Volodymyr Zelensky in the European Parliament. We all recall the appeals to supply long-range missiles, fighter jets and other military equipment, which we do not finance as a country. True, Roberta Metsola was speaking on behalf of the EU Parliament. However, the European Parliament have no say in military supplies, so the reason to increase the European Parliament’s profile on military and defence is for them to explain, and not for us to find out. Additionally, when Ursula von der Leyen and Metsola travelled to Israel, after the Whataboutism show in front of the EU Parliament, they increased their profile, once again, and blessed the counteroffensive in Gaza. As I said in my preceding articles, the High Representative was indirectly sacked from his post resulting in a messy handling in foreign policy.

Well, the rest is now history.

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