The economically powerful European Union has long been able to boast of a ‘soft power’. But with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU was also quickly able to find funds for arms, and just days after the start of the war. A taboo had been broken, High Representative Josep Borrell said in late February as EU foreign ministers agreed to provide €500 million for Member States to support Ukraine’s military. Out of the limelight, Rory Domm and a small group of dedicated EU officials had to make that happen. “The EPF was mobilised very quickly and we worked around the clock. The invasion started on the 24th (of February) and on the 28th, we had the EU Council agreeing that first tranche of support,” Domm says.

The precise wording of the EU treaties prohibits the European Union from using its seven-year budget to fund military or defence operations, but it was long felt that EU foreign policy needed a tool to support partners on military and defence issues. Two years before Russia’s invasion, Domm had been negotiating the establishment of the off-budget EPF. “This was a missing tool in the EU’s toolbox. Perhaps the most illustrative example is when we were able to provide training to third country partners, but we weren’t able to supplement the training with the necessary equipment.”

The EPF’s goal was broadly defined: to deliver military aid to partner countries and finance the deployment of EU military missions abroad. “The EPF has a global mandate,” Domm says.

Expression of unity

The EPF plays a role in a number of key geographical areas, notably Africa where €600 million has been allocated to finance African Union Peace Support Operations between 2022 and 2024, and Mozambique, with an EU Training Mission working with partner military forces using equipment financed by the EPF. However, it is in Ukraine where is contribution is being felt most. With its ceiling set at €5.69 billion for the period 2021-2027, the EPF – following approval by Member States – has already set aside €3 billion for Ukraine, and in less than a year.

The impact of such a level of EU support is multifaceted, Domm says. “It’s an expression of EU unity in response to Russia’s full-scale and illegal invasion of Ukraine. It’s also a sign of solidarity between Member States,” he asserts. It is, of course, a way to give concrete support to Ukraine militarily. “But it does that by incentivising the Member States to provide more support than they might otherwise have done.”

Would Baltic countries still have given a third of their defence budget to Ukraine if the EPF had not existed? Domm, an EU diplomat whose previous posting included Washington and North Macedonia, believes it gives countries the reassurance that they can restock the equipment they have supplied to Ukraine. “That’s the case we made. And we also had positive feedback from Member S t ates t hat t his is an instrument that’s worth supporting.”

So how does it work in practice? Essentially, Member States hand in their receipts on a periodic basis to the EU Military Staff. “The main criterion for support are the needs of the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” he says. The levels of reimbursements are calculated by consensus. “The reimbursements made are very sizeable, up to €3 billion. So that’s a sizeable contribution to the efforts the Member States have made.” Reimbursements for support provided have already begun.

Future funding?

With such a large chunk of the EPF financing already pledged to Ukraine, and the EPF’s high-profile successes, it inevitably leads to questions about whether the Facility’s budget should be increased. Domm says that is a discussion for Member States, but he believes it is one that has its merits. “It’s about credibility, and matching resources to the level of political ambition.”

He also says any future financing needs to consider how so much has changed in supporting Ukraine in such a short time. “In the beginning, this was about the reimbursement of stocks, because it was about taking stocks off the shelf to support Ukraine’s right to self-defence,” Domm says. “Now we see that the conflict is potentially going to be drawn out, and that the defence industrial base needs to be mobilised. And so, we have tried, through the EPF, to enhance the possibilities to allow for Member States to deliver equipment through procurement.”

The same is true of maintenance and repair, he says, so that if an EU country gives equipment to Ukraine that later requires maintenance, then the costs of that might also be eligible for reimbursement. That could mean that for Ukraine it is also less burdensome to take on so many different types of Western equipment and at short notice. “The support to Ukraine under the EPF is evolving,” he asserts.

Even as the EPF is set to move further into procurement support, Domm is eager to underline that the Facility’s goal is to support the EU’s external policy of the EU as part of the EU’s integrated approach to external conflict and crisis, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), and in line with the EU’s strong commitments to international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

“It should be a complimentary debate about the additional support that can be given to the defence industrial base,” he adds. Even if the Facility is a CFSP instrument, “we should be alive to the read-across to defence industrial policy. In due course, there can be positive spillover effects.”

EPF at a glance

> The EPF is an off-budget instrument to help prevent conflicts, build peace and strengthen international security. It helps the financing of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) where it has military or defence implications.

> The EPF has a financial ceiling of €5.692 billion for 2021-2027. Contributions are determined on a Gross National Income (GNI) distribution key.

> The EPF comprises two financing pillars in a single instrument: an Operations Pillar, financing the common costs of Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) military missions and operations, and an Assistance Measures Pillar for third states, regional or international organisations.

> Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the EPF has been reimbursing Member States’ deliveries of both lethal and non-lethal equipment to Kyiv. Reimbursement levels are decided by consensus among Member States.