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BRUSSELS: EU lawmakers on Thursday approved a 7.9-billion-euro defence fund billed as an important step in bolstering military cooperation between the bloc's 27 nations.

The money, equivalent to $9.5 billion, is to be spent over the next seven years on backing joint research and development projects aimed at improving Europe's defences, with up to eight percent going on new "disruptive technologies". "We must increasingly be able to take our own security into our own hands, and to be a security player on the world stage," EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton told the European Parliament. "The European Defence Fund is an essential building block in increasing independence for Europe."

Debate has raged for decades over what role Brussels should play on defence, and EU member nations - most of which are also NATO allies - have often been reluctant to agree moves to integrate military capabilities.

Agreement on the fund comes as France spearheads a push for EU "strategic autonomy".

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