WASHINGTON — The European Union launched a new defense budget Wednesday, and its leaders will meet in Prague, Czech Republic, on June 9 to debate the new role it will take in defense.
"Europe can no longer afford to piggy back on the military might of others," Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU's legislative body, said in his 2016 state of the union address. "We have to take responsibility for protecting our interests and the European way of life. It is only by working together that Europe will be able to defend itself at home and abroad."
The EU will debate the specific role it will fill in conjunction with NATO at this meeting, not wanting to duplicate the work of NATO but also feeling the pressure to ramp up defense in the face of new threats and U.S. criticism, according to a European Commission announcement and a report by The Associated Press.
European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen articulated this need when he commented on EU efforts to begin its own defense programs.
"In today's world, a strong NATO and a strong EU are more important than they ever have been before. Without duplicating what already exists, Europe needs to take its security and defense into its own hands in order to be a stronger partner to our allies," he said.
The commission's announcement also mentioned a need to join forces on certain threats, specifically cyber, terrorism and hybrid threats.
"While Member States … are responsible for deploying security and armed forces when needed, new types of threats are best prevented and tackled by working together," the announcement said.
On June 9, the commission will present three different defense paths for the future of European defense.
In the first plan, the EU would continue its relationship with NATO in the same way it has historically. The new European Defense Fund would create certain joint capabilities; however, the bulk of defense would be carried out by member states.
In another version, the EU and NATO would coordinate "across a full spectrum of issues" and the EU would step up its role within counties and at borders. Finances would also be pooled for certain programs in order to create solidarity.
In a final and ambitious scenario, member states would subscribe to a "common Union defense policy." The EU and NATO would both be mutually responsible for protecting Europe and defense forces would be integrated across Europe, allowing the EU "to run high-end security and defense operations."