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Can the EU do more to support Ukraine?

Lucia Schulten in Brussels
February 10, 2024

With US aid for Ukraine increasingly unstable, the German chancellor thinks EU member states should step up their support. But what more can the EU really do?

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Brussels
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (center) met with EU officials in Brussels on ThursdayImage: Virginia Mayo/AP Photo/picture alliance

Before flying off to the US where he met President Joe Biden in Washington on Friday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the war in Ukraine would be a key issue. "The question now is how Europe, but also the US, can consolidate support for Ukraine," he said, adding that there was currently not enough help coming from the US and Europe.

The EU recently approved a €50-billion (ca. $54 billion) support package for Ukraine, in an attempt to send a signal to the US. European Council President Charles Michel said afterwards the deal showed that the EU was "taking leadership and responsibility in support for Ukraine," as it knew what "is at stake."

For his part, Biden has spent months trying to get a military aid package for Ukraine past Congress. On Wednesday, the Senate failed to pass a vote approving $60 billion in wartime aid to Ukraine. Even if the package eventually passes, it's unclear when the aid would be released. There has been concern in Europe for some time that the US could eventually cease providing support to Ukraine altogether.

Olfa Scholz climbing stairs into a plane
Scholz said Ukraine needed more support from the EU and the USImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

EU support mainly for civilian purposes

The EU aid package, which Hungary blocked for months, is intended to help Ukraine through the period from 2024 to 2027, in the form of grants and loans. But as Bruno Lete, a visiting professor for trans-Atlantic relations at the College of Europe in Bruges, pointed out, it's primarily earmarked for civilian purposes, such as paying the salaries of teachers or administrators.

Even though EU states are catching up in terms of pledged military aid, the US remains the largest donor, having provided the equivalent of €44 billion according to figures from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy on December 7. Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief, said at the end of January that the EU and its member states had so far provided a total of €28 billion in military aid to Ukraine.

Aid from the US was vital for Ukraine, Lete told DW. Camille Grand of the European Council on Foreign Relations also said that less aid from the US could become a problem for the EU. Grand, a former assistant secretary general for defense investment at NATO, said that though Europe had caught up in terms of military aid, it was still unable to provide the same level of support as the US.

Could the EU do more for Ukraine?

In recent weeks, Chancellor Scholz has made it clear several times that he does not think all the EU member states are doing enough when it comes to military aid for Ukraine.

The EU institutions are also concerned by the issue of military aid. Ahead of last week's EU summit, the European External Action Service conducted a survey of aid pledges for Ukraine. An EU ambassador told DW that about 20 of the 27 member states had responded, and 13 of these had provided concrete figures.

Abrams tanks being shipped by train
The US army has delivered several Abrams tanks to UkraineImage: Spc. Adrian Greenwood/DVIDS/dpa/picture alliance

On the eve of the meeting of EU leaders, Borrell spoke of pledges received so far amounting to €21 billion for 2024. By comparison: the currently blocked US aid amounts to almost €56 billion.

Grand said that some northern European countries had already delivered significant funds, particularly at the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but pointed out that the rest of the bloc was lagging. He said Germany was catching up, but other countries, for example France, remained behind regarding their commitments. 

Member states disagree as to extent of aid

Lete said the 27 member states did not have the same understanding of aid. He explained that many Eastern European countries, especially the Baltic states, believe Ukraine should be given everything it needed to win the war, whereas other states only want to provide enough resources for self-defense.

Lete doubted whether the EU would be able to compensate if US aid dried up, adding that Europe lacked the necessary military capacities. He said the arms industry was not in a position to produce enough material to meet Ukrainian demand.

How much aid has Ukraine received from the EU?

Grand also pointed out that the EU took too long to make decisions and to conclude agreements. This is why, for example, the million rounds of ammunition that the EU had promised Ukraine by March would not be delivered on time. Grand said an improvement was in sight, but the production levels of the European arms industry remained too low in some areas.

At the post summit press conference, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at least 520,000 artillery shells would be sent to Ukraine by the end of March. At the same time, she announced a strategy for the defense industry, which she said would lead to better coordination at European level.

This article was originally written in German.

DW Mitarbeiterin Lucia Schulten
Lucia Schulten Brussels Correspondent