BRUSSELS — European Union foreign and defense ministers agreed on Monday to spend up to 2 billion euros, or $2.14 billion, to supply Ukraine with badly needed artillery shells, replenish their own national stocks and ramp up Europe’s ammunition production.
As is typical for the bloc and its 27 member states, the details of the agreement must still be worked out and questions remain about the speed of the response, a crucial matter as Ukraine prepares for a spring counteroffensive.
But the agreement nevertheless marks another step for the European Union in working collectively for Ukraine, and in an area — defense — that member countries largely keep as a national priority.
Josep Borrell Fontelles, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, hailed the agreement. “We are taking a key step toward delivering on our promises to provide Ukraine with more artillery ammunition,” he said on Twitter.
On Monday, 17 member states, plus Norway, also agreed to work with a Brussels institution, the European Defense Agency, on joint ammunition procurement, especially for the 155-millimeter artillery rounds Ukraine badly needs.
Germany’s defense minister, Boris Pistorius, said that Germany would also let other countries join in its contracts with German defense manufacturers since speed was of the essence. “Our goal has to be to ship a significant amount of munitions to Ukraine before the end of this year,” he said.
His Estonian counterpart, Hanno Pevkur, said, “There are many, many details still to solve, but for me, it is most important that we conclude these negotiations, and it shows me one thing: If there is a will, there is a way.”
But even one of the most forceful advocates for helping Ukraine, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis of Lithuania, has admitted that the target of one million rounds this year, originally proposed by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia, was aspirational. “It is possible that we might not be able to reach it,” he said.
With Ukraine using up artillery shells faster than the West can produce them, the Europeans are pushing ahead with a three-part program.
The first part, which is most urgent, involves pressing member states to send artillery shells from their own dwindling stocks to Ukraine, using €1 billion to reimburse them.
It remains unclear how many shells are available in E.U. stockpiles, since some member states have refused to divulge their holdings, partly for security reasons. And countries have been keen to preserve some of their own stocks in case the war suddenly escalates.
The new European money is meant to increase their willingness to part with those shells.
Kyiv’s primary need is for 155-millimeter shells to be used in Western guns. Ukraine says it wants 350,000 shells a month but arms manufacturers in the European Union can produce a total of only about 650,000 rounds of all types a year.
That is why the second part of the plan involves another €1 billion for arms manufacturers to accelerate the production of shells, both to replenish E.U. stocks and provide more for Ukraine. But that won’t be easy or quick: New contracts must be drawn up and signed, the now-rare raw materials to make explosives must be sourced and factories must be built.
Officials in Brussels want to start ordering ammunition collectively because they believe that larger orders are more attractive to manufacturers and can bring prices down. The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and others have cited the example of Brussels buying Covid-19 vaccines in bulk.
Some countries, however, do not want to hand over that kind of power on defense issues to Brussels or believe that coalitions of member states with long experience in military contracts would be more efficient than the commission, which has not negotiated such contracts before.
There are split views, too, on what to buy: Some countries want to purchase only European-made ammunition, while others think that the need for speed should dictate buying off-the-shelf from wherever stocks can be found.
The third part of the plan is longer-term and centers on boosting Europe’s defense industry, but that would require billions more and remains vague.
So for now the immediate goal is to provide Ukraine with another one million 155-millimeter shells this year and sign new procurement contracts by the end of May, Mr. Borrell said.
Since the start of the war 13 months ago, Brussels has spent €450 million to reimburse members for supplying 350,000 shells to Ukraine.