The EU wants to pay for military equipment, including lethal weaponry, for partner countries in crisis zones such as Africa's Sahel region as part of a 10.5-billion euro ($12.4-billion) "peace facility" launched on Wednesday.
The bloc says the new European Peace Facility (EPF) is needed to make its training missions in three African countries more effective and to enable it to contribute to peacekeeping efforts elsewhere in the world.
But the EU paying for arms is a sensitive issue for some member states, especially when it involves countries with histories of political unrest and human rights abuses, and there could be resistance to the proposal.
The new EPF is being kept separate from the main EU budget to get around the bloc's rules against funding military projects.
The EU's diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the EPF -- which needs approval by all of the bloc's member countries -- would make it easier to help stabilise restive countries like Mali, Somalia and the Central African Republic.
"The world is living in difficult times and this calls for a European Union responsibility and role on the global scene," Mogherini said.
"Both Europeans and our partners in the world expect the EU to be more and more a security provider in our region and beyond."
The proposal, made by the European Commission, the bloc's powerful executive arm, would see partner countries given "comprehensive support", which officials said could include weapons.
Decisions about what to spend EPF money on would be taken by member states themselves, through the European Council.
An EU official told AFP that any decision to pay for weapons would take into account the bloc's human rights values and only in "very specific cases and after careful checking".
Arms would only be provided as part of a package alongside training, and would not be the main focus of the EPF funding, the official said.
The fund hopes to improve the effectiveness of the EU's training missions in Africa.
The official pointed to the Somalia operation, where in some cases local forces have been unable to apply the training they have received because of a lack of equipment as basic as proper boots.
© 2018 AFP