France is blocking a decision by the EU to finance ammunition for Ukraine, the Polish press agency PAP reported yesterday.

On March 20, the EU agreed “in line with Ukraine’s urgent needs” to “speed up the delivery and joint procurement [of up to] one million rounds of artillery ammunition for Ukraine…” This includes financing.

France is reportedly holding back, pushing for reimbursement to be possible “not only for ammunition, but also for missiles.” This includes cases in which Ukraine “didn’t ask for those missiles,” according to PAP, citing a high-level source in the EU. 

What kind of missiles has France given Ukraine?

France has already sent Ukraine at least 18 Caesar units, with 12 more pledged at the end of January. The Caesars use a 155-mm howitzer ammunition that would be included in the EU ammunition agreement.

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However, both France and Italy have sent systems called MAMBA or SAMP, which are vehicle-mounted batteries of medium-range missiles designed to offer protection from airborne threats such as enemy missiles and manned or unmanned aircraft.

France is understood to want reimbursement for these and similar systems, even though they have not been specifically requested by Ukraine.

Was this unexpected?

Not really. Whenever the EU decides on anything, it takes a while to implement. Not only is reaching a consensus among 27 nations difficult, but once an agreement is signed, the details that need to be sorted out can delay matters.

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With respect to this particular ammunition procurement agreement, a squabble arose in early April with France leading the way.

The bone of contention, according to a Politico report citing several EU diplomats, centers on  whether these arms contracts “will go exclusively to EU companies (and how to legally define them), or also be open to outside manufacturers.” The report adds that, according to several diplomats, “France is pushing for the money to stay within EU borders while Greece and Cyprus have also backed Paris – a move some of the diplomats said is linked to their desire to avoid contracts going to Turkish manufacturers.”

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In fact, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a March 25 interview with Polish radio RMF FM that he planned to convince EU partners of the need for joint purchases of ammunition outside Europe.

“In Brussels, it is an open secret that there is no ammunition in Europe. On the other hand, there are several regions in the world, such as South Korea and Israel, where there are many more such munitions. That is why I expect that our joint discussions with the European Commission, several key countries, Germany and France, will lead to a quick receipt of ammunition, because Ukraine needs it here and now.”

But according to Morawiecki, France opposed the purchase of ammunition outside the EU.

Why is France being so contrarian?

Given France’s patterns of movement within EU political circles, combined with its historical tendency to willfully differentiate itself from its allies, the additional speed-bump in the process should come as no surprise.

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As it stands, the EU agreement still needs to be transformed into a legal document – and the devil lies in the details currently being hammered out.

According to some diplomats cited in the PAP report, pressure from defense companies could have fueled France’s decision. “It’s about creating a mechanism to force the ordering of specific equipment that the Ukrainian side might not effectively need,” one EU diplomat told PAP.

Also, there is the need for French President Emmanuel Macron to keep up appearances as an independent actor. At home he is struggling with protests against pension reforms, and internationally he is catching flak for overly accommodating China on his recent trip to Beijing.

With respect to Russia, he has repeatedly been pilloried in the press for his naïve efforts to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to stand down – although that may also have been a disingenuous move to placate domestic concerns.

In December, Macron said that he had two “red lines” when it came to arms deliveries to Ukraine: that it did not affect France’s ability to defend itself, and did not make Paris a co-belligerent in the war.

Now, with allegedly top secret US documents indicating that France has at least 15 special forces soldiers on the ground in Ukraine, it will be that much more difficult for Macron to argue that France is not a “co-belligerent.”

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