BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Council President Donald Tusk urged European leaders to spend more on defense on Friday as deadly attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait drove home his point about dramatic changes to the security situation in Europe and its neighborhood.
Although their talks were overshadowed by the Greek debt crisis, Britain’s attempt to renegotiate its membership and a row over migration, European Union leaders also discussed at a Brussels summit how to strengthen Europe’s defense industry and how to make Europe a stronger player in the security arena.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg joined the 28 EU leaders to talk about “the new threats facing Europe at a time of hybrid warfare, global terrorism and cyber attacks,” Tusk said.
“Europeans must invest in their own defense to deal with a dramatically changed security environment,” he told a news conference after the summit.
Underlining his point, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 25 people at a mosque in Kuwait , 37 people were killed in a shooting at a Tunisian hotel, and a decapitated body was found after an explosion in France.
Many European countries have slashed defense spending since the 2008 financial crisis. That has raised concern in the United States and NATO about Europe’s declining military capabilities, especially at a time of heightened tension with Russia over Ukraine.
The spending fall has hit orders for European defense companies, leading them to slash money for research, and raising concerns that this will erode their future competitiveness.
In a significant change in EU policy, the leaders gave the green light for a pilot scheme that could pave the way for the bloc to help fund defense research projects. Until now, EU research funding has been limited to civilian projects.
Stoltenberg’s presence symbolized how NATO and the EU are working more closely together to counter so-called “hybrid” warfare.
The term covers unconventional techniques such as Russia’s use of soldiers without military insignia in Crimea, as well as cyber attacks, economic pressure, propaganda and the use of social media by Islamist militants to recruit supporters.
As part of the work, the EU is studying how to counter what it says is deliberate misinformation coordinated by the Kremlin over Moscow’s role and aims in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe. Russia denies sending soldiers and weapons to fan the separatist conflict in its former Soviet neighbor.
The EU launches its own military missions, ranging from training soldiers in Somalia to a new initiative to counter migrant-smuggling from Libya, but it believes it does not gain enough recognition for its efforts.
Its ambitions to be a major military player are undermined by members such as Britain, which says NATO must remain the primary defense organization.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan