EU must contribute to strengthening the external border with its own resources - Ijabs

  • 2024-05-05
  • LETA/TBT Staff

RIGA - The European Union (EU) should be involved in strengthening the external border, including the construction of infrastructure, Ivars Ijabs, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and leader of the list of the For Latvia's Development (LA) party for the next EP elections, said in an interview with LETA.

The politician stressed that strengthening the external border is one of the priorities at the moment. The politician gave the example of the Interreg program funded by the European Regional Development Fund. According to Ijabs, the program is designed to enable EU Member States to cooperate across borders with third countries in order to develop joint infrastructure projects there.

"The program was originally intended for peaceful purposes, but now I see no reason why this money could not be used to strengthen our borders, given that we share borders with two countries that are, to say the least, unfriendly to Europe," Ijabs said.

He noted that a lot of work on strengthening and developing the defense industry has been started in the current parliamentary term, but it is not yet clear how this will be taken forward. Ijabs pointed out that the initial "bright idea" of spending EUR 100 billion on strengthening Europe's defense capabilities has led to legislative proposals that leave just EUR 3 billion out of the initially proposed EUR 100 billion. The politician thinks this is absurd.

"Of course, there are also things like border guards, namely border guard cooperation, which is already taking place in the form of the EU border guard agency Frontex. "Frontex's mandate to guard the external border is unfortunately very limited," said the MEP.

He pointed out that it is not Brussels that will guarantee Latvia's security. Ijabs stressed that we need to think about how to motivate other European countries to invest in their security and increase their defense budgets. The politician stressed that there had been a lot of talk about this in the EP, but member states had been "rather evasive".

"If in Latvia we are thinking about how to allocate 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to defense in 2027, Poland already allocates 4 percent of GDP to defense, while Germany has barely reached 2 percent of GDP. Then we need to think how to motivate Member States to invest in their own security and defense with a "whip and cane" policy," said the MEP.

He pointed out that the European Investment Bank has so far been seen as the European Commission's "pocket bank", financing mostly green projects. According to Ijabs, the priority now is to change the profile of the EIB so that it can also support defense projects. Another question is whether defense spending should be counted towards the overall budget deficit ceiling.

"For example, whether we can borrow to strengthen the country's armed forces and our defense capabilities. This is an important discussion. I think it is important to talk about it because Europe has enjoyed the so-called 'peace dividend' for a very long time. We have cut defense budgets significantly. We can, of course, point the finger at Germany or Luxembourg, but 12 years ago the defense budget in Latvia was also less than 1 percent of GDP," the politician stressed.

He pointed out that the "peace dividend" is over and that we need to move rapidly in the direction of rebuilding our defense capabilities, including through borrowing. In Ijabs' view, these are economically important issues that should be discussed by the next EP in the hope that there will be a change of mindset, realizing that the EU is not a purely civilian organization dealing only with subsidies and regulation, but that it must also be certain in its decisions on common defense capabilities.