Estonian PM Kallas backs new EU defence industry commissioner post

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 4:15 AM

By Andrew Gray

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has backed the idea of a European Commissioner dedicated to the defence industry as the European Union seeks to become a bigger player in the sector.

Kallas, a member of the European Council of the EU’s national leaders, told Reuters in an interview that there was an urgent need to develop Europe’s defence industry.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has sparked debate by pledging to create a post of defence commissioner if she wins a second term later this year.

The idea shows how defence has risen up Europe’s political agenda. Leaders have vowed to ramp up defence spending and arms production amid fears about Russia after its invasion of Ukraine and about the future of U.S. security commitments to Europe.

Some politicians and diplomats see von der Leyen’s idea as a welcome sign that Europe is getting more serious about defence. Others argue defence policy is the domain of member countries and the proposal risks dangerous duplication with NATO.

Kallas said such a post would make sense if it focused on industry.

“If the idea is about defence industry and developing it further, then we have an urgent need and then we could also have a leader that only deals with these issues,” she said in Brussels on Wednesday, after arriving for an EU summit.

“We don’t want to blur the lines between NATO and European Union,” she said.

“In terms of a military crisis, it is important who gives orders to whom, how the chain of command really works. That is NATO, militarily. But boosting the defence industry – that is where the European Union has also a say.”


The European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, has concentrated largely on economic matters since its establishment in the 1950s – reflecting the EU’s focus on soft power.

But the war in Ukraine has prompted the EU and the Commission to embrace more hard power.

An EU-run fund has bankrolled billions of euros in arms for Kyiv. The Commission has awarded billions more to stimulate defence investments, boost ammunition production and encourage EU countries to work together on common projects.

Thierry Breton, the French commissioner for the EU’s internal market, has taken the lead on the defence industry so far.

The Commission wants EU countries to spend much more of their defence budgets in Europe. It says about 80% of EU countries’ defence buys in the year and a half after the war began went to companies outside the bloc, mostly in the U.S.

Kallas has suggested EU joint borrowing to finance greater defence investment – a proposal backed by French President Emmanuel Macron. But fiscally cautious countries such as Germany, Austria and Sweden are sceptical.

Kallas argued such borrowing was needed urgently, even if countries took other measures to boost their defence spending over the medium and long term.

“The crisis is right now, here. We have to invest in defence now,” she said. “We don’t have the time to wait.”

(Reporting by Andrew Gray; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Alex Richardson)