BRUSSELS: European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen argued Wednesday for creating a post of defence commissioner to lead a drive to rearm Europe if she wins a second term in office.

The new role would focus on bolstering Europe’s “defence industrial base” in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine, said the head of the European Union’s executive.

“Citizens want more Europe in defence,“ she told journalists.

“They want us to invest more. They want us to invest better. They want us to invest European and smarter.”

The EU is holding elections for the European parliament in June and the new commission will be chosen in the months that follow.

Von der Leyen is the favourite to claim another five-year term after getting the backing from a string of European governments.

She was speaking in Brussels alongside Manfred Weber, the head of the centre-right European People’s Party which will anoint her as its candidate for the top job at a congress next month.

The drive to ramp up Europe’s defence capabilities comes two years into Moscow’s invasion and as the spectre of a return to the White House for an isolationist Donald Trump looms over the United States.

The Republican frontrunner to face President Joe Biden in November elections has rattled America’s European allies in NATO by suggesting he wouldn’t protect those not meeting financial obligations.

That has added to calls for the EU to ratchet up its efforts on defence, launched after Russia unleashed Europe’s largest conflict since World War II.

Despite a raft of measures to bolster arms production in Europe the continent is struggling to manufacture enough weapons to keep Ukraine in the fight and refill its stocks.

The 27-nation bloc is set to fall well short of a pledge to give Ukraine a million artillery shells by March.

In the meantime, Russia has managed to step up its own production and has been receiving major deliveries of ammunition from North Korea.

Brussels is set to unveil a new plan to try to boost European production and joint purchases between EU states early next month.

At present the handling of European defence issues is divided between the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and internal market commissioner Thierry Breton. -AFP

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