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Inter-EU Spat Over Air Defenses Scratches the Surface of Deep Divisions in Europe

© Photo : armyrecognition.comSAMP-T MLT Launcher unit.
SAMP-T MLT Launcher unit. - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.05.2024
Poland and Greece on one side and EU behemoth Germany on the other have presented competing visions of a common European air defense system. Sputnik asked respected Polish political observer Mateusz Piskorski about the hidden tectonic political, economic and geostrategic tensions that the rival plans have laid bare.
Warsaw and Athens on Thursday urged the European Union to join forces to create a common “air defense shield” for the bloc.
“Europe will be safe as long as the skies over it are safe,” Polish and Greek prime ministers Donald Tusk and Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote in a joint letter to European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen. “That is why the EU needs a new flagship program – a European air defense shield – a comprehensive air defense system to protect our common EU airspace against all incoming threats.”
The ‘shield’ “must be a program which addresses [the] major vulnerability in our security” resulting from an array of global crises, and one “which strengthens the EU’s overall defense capabilities and incentivizes European defense companies to develop cutting-edge technologies,” the letter stressed.
Von der Leyen, up for reelection in the quickly approaching elections to the European Parliament in June, quickly endorsed the Polish-Greek proposal at a debate Thursday night.
U.S. troops from 5th Battalion of the 7th Air Defense Regiment are seen at a test range in Sochaczew, Poland, on Saturday, March 21, 2015, to demonstrate the U.S. Army’s capacity to deploy Patriot systems rapidly within NATO territory. - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.05.2024
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The new air defense proposals comes after –and apparently as a direct challenge to, a German-led initiative floated in 2022 to create a ‘European Sky Shield’, involving the joint European purchase of pricey air defense equipment. That project fell into obscurity after other major EU partners, including France, expressed opposition to purchasing weapons made outside the bloc.
France and Italy have been pushing their own sophisticated rival to the American Patriot missile system known as the SAMP/T – priced at roughly $500 million per battery and $2 million per interceptor missile (compared to about $1 billion per battery and $4 million per missile in the Patriot’s case). Both systems have been thrashed by Russian forces after being sent to Ukraine.
The competing EU air defense proposals and inability to agree on a bloc-wide policy to date is logical outcome of a union divided by internal political divisions, economic and strategic considerations, and the overbearing influence of Europe’s partners in Washington, says Mateusz Piskorski, a former Sjem lawmaker, independent political observer and columnist for the Mysl Polska (‘Polish Thought’) newspaper.
Piskorski reminded Sputnik that the second of the competing air defense proposals have been unveiled on the eve of elections to the European Parliament, and recalled that both the Polish and Greek prime ministers are members of the same European-level party – the center-right, pro-Europeanist European People’s Party.
“As representatives of this pan-European party, the ranks of which incidentally include Ursula von der Leyen, they are likely trying to demonstrate in the framework of pre-election activities that they have their own version and vision of a European air defense system. In other words, this is an election campaign issue,” Piskorski explained.
From that perspective, the observer stressed that there’s no question that the Polish-Greek ‘European Air Defense Shield’ is an alternative to the German European Sky Shield proposal, recalling that Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats are direct competitors to the European People’s Party at the EU level.
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“Secondly, of course, there are certain political subtleties,” Piskorski said, pointing to lingering Greek animosities to Germany’s treatment of Athens a decade-and-a-half ago when Greece suffered economic collapse, and the strict austerity programs enforced on it at Berlin’s direction.
Poland too has “historical and political grounds” of its own to express skepticism of German initiatives, Piskorski said.
“Everyone understands that the creation of such a system – the development of this program would require the effort of all EU members,” and that a major European power – Germany or France, would have to take the lead, the observer noted.
One of the prime reasons Europe already doesn’t have its own common air defense system comes down to the influence of its “Anglo-Saxon friends, and, naturally, first and foremost the USA, who are protecting their own interests and see continental Europe as their protectorate,” Piskorski said.
The UK plays second fiddle in this arrangement, having left the EU through Brexit, closing the door to any pan-European integration projects, including defense policy.
With Central European countries like Poland owing their allegiance to the US, Piskorski rules out the creation a genuinely European mutual air defense arrangement at the current stage. “No one will say so directly, but such an initiative would not be received kindly by Washington and American authorities, just like attempts to create a common European defense policy,” he said.
“Attempts to create large, powerful structures in the military-industrial complex of continental Europe are projects which contradict the main economic and geopolitical interests of the United States,” Piskorski stressed.
That said, the observer doesn’t rule out a European move toward “strategic autonomy,” to quote President Macron of France, including as far as questions related to defense are concerned, after the presidential elections in the US, and in the event that Washington scales back its participation in and financing for various defense-related projects in Europe.
“This would make these projects more concrete and substantive. But this is a question for the future. It’s a slow process. I think that the process of gaining autonomy in this area may take at least several years, perhaps several decades,” Piskorski stressed.
U.S. troops from 5th Battalion of the 7th Air Defense Regiment are seen at a test range in Sochaczew, Poland, on Saturday, March 21, 2015, to demonstrate the U.S. Army’s capacity to deploy Patriot systems rapidly within NATO territory. - Sputnik International, 1920, 18.04.2024
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Discord in Europe

Besides US intransigence, up to and including the possible use of agents of influence to resist EU air defense initiatives, there are issues of financing, as well as “technological barriers,” the observer believes.
“There are many factors here, but first and foremost of all is the question of financing. We know that, unfortunately, the European Commission’s sanctions policy and the so-called ‘green agenda’ on environmental issues, among other things, has resulted in European industry being curtailed. Europe is in a fairly deep economic crisis, at least for now,” Piskorski said.
As for technological barriers, “they are connected, first of all, with the fact that Europe has relied exclusively on the United States in this regard in the past, and did not have time to develop its own technologies to the same level…And of course, within Europe there is competition between the defense-industrial complexes of different nations. Naturally, any EU country will seek to support the interests of its own manufacturers, developers of technology, and so on,” the political observer summed up.
This photograph shows a short range air-to-air missile Iris-T displayed on the European multinational twin-engine, canard delta wing and multirole fighter Eurofighter Typhoon at the International Paris Air Show in the Paris–Le Bourget Airport, on June 19, 2023.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 18.04.2024
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