In a speech at a EU security and defense conference in Prague, the European Commission's president said on Friday that European countries need to spend more on defense as "the deference to NATO can no longer be used as a convenient alibi to argue against greater European efforts."
US President Donald Trump has previously urged for NATO's 22 EU members to boost their defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product.
EU member states currently spend only 1.3 percent of their overall budget on defense, much less than the United States, Russia and China, Juncker said.
"We have no other choice than to defend our own interests in the Middle East, in climate change, in our trade agreements," he said in the Czech capital. Juncker said the EU must "invest more, and invest in a more efficient way."
"The protection of Europe can no longer be outsourced," Juncker underlined.
NATO still needed
The European Commission's president however said that "competition between the EU and NATO is not an option" and that it is crucial for the security of Europe.
Juncker said that getting rid of NATO "would be a disaster for the EU."
The UK and France have the strongest militaries in the EU, but Britain's imminent exit from the bloc could weaken Europe's collective defense.
Still, EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini told the conference on Friday that the EU should increase defense spending for its own sake, not due to pressure from US President Trump or from Brexit.
"Let me be very open about this," Mogherini said. "If we're heading toward European security and defense, it is not because UK is leaving the European Union ... or because of shifts across the Atlantic. We're doing this because we need it, and we want it."
The European Commission announced the launch of a European Defense Fund on Wednesday to assist in financing joint military projects. The fund would provide a total of 500 million euros ($563 million) in EU money to help develop and buy military equipment in 2019 and 2020.
rs/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)