Tonin says EU strategic autonomy not to rival NATO

Brussels – Coming out of a two-day NATO ministerial in Brussels on Friday, the first in-person session in over a year, Defence Minister Matej Tonin said he had made it clear the EU’s strategic autonomy was not meant to compete with NATO or the US.

Speaking to reporters, Tonin said the important thing was everyone understood strategic autonomy the same way.

As the chair of the EU Council, he underscored clearly, including to US allies, that strategic autonomy was not about competition with NATO or the US, but “merely about our greater autonomy”.

Tonin also took part in a session of EU defence ministers in Brussels yesterday which discussed formation of rapid reaction forces, countering hybrid threats, development of critical capabilities and deepening strategic partnership with NATO.

The ministers repeated the need for the EU to be capable of faster independent crisis response, in particular in the immediate neighbourhood as well as wider.

Rapid reaction forces are one of the options they discussed. They also talked about mechanisms for faster decision-making within existing treaty provisions and greater financial solidarity, the Slovenian Defence Ministry said.

It was the last debate before a draft Strategic Compass is to be presented in November to set out political guidelines for development of European defence and security over the next decade. The document is to be endorsed in March next year.

The German press agency dpa reported this week that Slovenia was one of the five EU countries proposing expanding the EU’s existing battle groups into a rapid reaction force in an initiative prompted by troop withdrawal from Afghanistan where the EU had to rely on the US.

Speaking after NATO defence ministerial today, Tonin also presented details of Slovenia’s changed NATO capability goals under which the country committed to one instead of two battalion-size battlegroups.

In exchange Slovenia has offered the Triglav patrol boat, a new transport aircraft, while it will also build a reconnaissance unit, Tonin told reporters.

Touching on defence expenditure, he said despite increases Slovenia continued to trail at the bottom both in Europe and NATO. Under the 2022 and 2023 budgets, Slovenia will allocate 1.3% of GDP for defence expenditure, which is to increase to 1.4% in 2023 and 1.5% by 2024.

As part of the ministerial a declaration was signed to set up a billion euro worth NATO Innovation Fund to develop emerging and disruptive technologies.

Through the fund, the interested member states, including Slovenia, will support investments in start-up tech companies developing dual-use technologies in areas key to allied security. The funds could also be used by Slovenian innovative companies.