06:29 GMT04 April 2020
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    Of late, the EU has been toying with the idea of creating a common European Defense Fund to support research and joint procurement of defense equipment, the funds expected to come from the EU budget. Dutiful EU member Sweden has expressed its reservations over the project as only benefiting EU heavyweights.

    Amid US President Donald Trump's incessant calls on the EU to bolster its military budgets, European nations have intensified talks of taking security matters into their own hands.

    "It's time for us to take greater responsibility for own safety. We cannot rely on anyone else to defend Europe," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, welcoming France and Germany's plans to jointly develop drones and transport planes in a project that may receive EU funding.

    In this connection, the perspectives of establishing a common European Defense Fund may gain a particular importance, triggering more collaborations of this sort. According to the European Commission's proposal, collaboration between two countries is sufficient for a project to receive EU funding. A majority of EU countries have already expressed their support for the new defense initiative, whereas Sweden has been more cautious.

    According to the Swedish government, this scheme may benefit large countries like France and Germany above all others. There is a risk that the EU funds end up subsidizing the defense industries of large countries, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said.

    "There must be no arrangements favoring certain countries with a certain type of structures in their defense industries or other distortions allowing them to benefit from the others," Peter Hultqvist told Swedish Radio.

    The Swedish opposition has accused Sweden's red-green coalition government of being too passive in the defense debate currently underway in the EU, however, it essentially shares the government's reservations.

    "Not only big countries with populations of 60 to 80 million people, such as Germany and France, should be gathered around the table. Instead, it should be an all-European affair," Conservative defense spokesman Hans Wallmark told Swedish Radio.

    ​Although renowned for its incessant peacemaking efforts over the past decades, Sweden is one of the world's largest arms exporters per capita, selling arms to the tune of 11 billion SEK ($1.3bln) in 2016. Some 30,000 people are employed in the Swedish defense industry, many of them in towns where arms factories are the largest private sector employer, such as Karlskoga, which was given a new lease on life in 1940 as the hometown of Bofors, one of Sweden's largest arms exporters.

    Saab and other Sweden-based firms, such as the afore-mentioned Bofors, were largely successful in the 2000s. Following a decline in demand in the Western world, however, Sweden has become more inclined to sell arms to countries with a questionable human rights record, such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, which triggered concern from human rights activists.

    Earlier this year, the Swedish government's plan to introduce a bill that would restrict arms exports to so-called "non-democracies" startled Sweden's sales-dependent military-industrial complex, with Saab venturing that it might move some or all of its research and development out of Sweden.


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