The ministers agreed at a meeting in Stockholm that "industrial ramp-up is key,” European Commissioner Thierry Breton said in a tweet after the talks ended. "EU defense industry needs to move into an ‘economy of war’ mode,” Breton added.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, last week circulated a three-track plan, proposing to immediately transfer ammunition to Ukraine, particularly 155mm artillery rounds, from existing stocks or pending orders. It also called for aggregating orders to European industry and pledged to propose measures to cut back on red-tape or other bottlenecks hindering the industry from ramping up output.
The meeting of defense ministers, as an informal gathering, was not empowered to take a decision on the plan. That will be up to EU leaders meeting in Brussels on March 23-24.
"The next weeks and months, but mainly weeks - we are talking about weeks, will be critical because the military situation on the ground is very difficult,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said after the discussions.
Borrell said that his proposal entails €1 billion ($1.1 billion) for the immediate supply of ammunition from existing stockpiles, and another billion for joint procurement of additional shells. The funds, which will come from the European Peace Facility, will use up much of a previously agreed €2 billion boost for the fund. Borrell added that if member states want to continue using it, they will have to agree on additional financing.
Before the talks began, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said his country urgently needs artillery ammunition in large quantities, and a draft EU proposal to use €1 billion to buy shells won’t suffice. "We need one million rounds and approximately that would cost four billion,” Reznikov told reporters in Sweden. "We need more.”
Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said that his counterparts agreed on the need to expand the scope of ammunition sizes to also cover post-Soviet equipment used by the Ukrainian army. "This will be not only 155mm ammunition for howitzers, but also about 120mm for Leopard or Challenger tanks, through 125mm for the tanks from the T-72 family, but also 152mm for the post-Soviet equipment,” he said.
The EU proposal for sending ammunition to Ukraine "is important and necessary, but one can’t avoid the fact that over the next few weeks and months we’ll have to grapple with shortages,” German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said as he arrived for the gathering.
Pistorius said that "right now we need to find stocks jointly and to deliver whatever we can – to supply within the context of our own defense capabilities and the capacities of the alliance.” He added there was also a need to "see how quickly industry can scale up production.”
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