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Germany eyes EU fund to boost military

June 10, 2017

The EU's new defense fund could be used for drone development, better aircraft and officer training, Germany's defense minister has said. Ursula von der Leyen said Germany and France were already identifying projects.

Deutschland Ursula von der Leyen in der Generalfeldmarschall-Rommel-Kaserne
Image: picture alliance/dpa/B. Thissen

Von der Leyen told Germany's Funke newspaper concern that "we Europeans must get a firmer grip on our own security" in the wake of Britain's "Brexit" referendum and the US election of President Donald Trump.

Her remarks to the Ruhr District multimedia outlet based in Essen coincided with a public "open barrack" day at 16 Bundeswehr facilities as Germany's armed forces seek to recover from several scandals.

Visiting the Bundeswehr's large tank training center near Detmold - the Rommel Barracks named after the late Hitler-era Africa corps general - von der Leyen said German soldiers needed more "sustained" funding and more public support.

"Warm words are not sufficient," said von der Leyen - a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party.

She added that more modern equipment was "urgently" needed in greater quantity for deployments abroad in the face of terrorism.

Lengthy stay in Afghanistan

Earlier, she had told the Funke group that the Bundeswehr's presence in Afghanistan - begun in 2001 but currently reduced to 940 troops in training and advisory roles - would probably continue for years.

"The Bundeswehr has been stationed for almost 20 years in Kosovo alone," she said, adding that another focus of French-German cooperation based on an EU defense fund could be "efforts to stabilize the Sahel region."

The new defense fund - launched last Wednesday by the European Commission and priced initially at 500 million euros ($560 million) from 2019 - aims to boost synergies in the bloc and avoid duplication of military tasks.

Leftists, peace activists doubtful

Von der Leyen's remarks Saturday coincided with plans by peace activists to protest the "open barrack" day. Also, the opposition Left party held a conference in Hannover where delegates said Germany needed peace policy initiatives instead of its 15 current armed deployments abroad.

According to Left party co-leader Bernd Riexinger, other German political parties - four months out from a general election - must acknowledge that multinational combat missions in which Germany was involved had failed.

"We have for 15 years run a war against terror in Afghanistan, and terror is greater there today. This whole foreign mission has failed completely. Many people have died," Riexinger said told public Deutschlandfunk radio early Saturday.

Stabilizing Africa

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who's currently visiting Central America, released a video message saying that, after decades of budget cuts, the Bundeswehr needed to increase its attractiveness for new recruits in areas such as cyber-security.

European defense cooperation would be closely coordinated with the NATO alliance, she stressed, noting that Europe had a keen interest in stabilizing Africa, a major route for refugees heading to Europe, mainly via Italy.

"As Europeans, we want a coordinated approach," Merkel said on Saturday.

Merkel and Trump: Transatlantic breakup?

ipj/rc (Reuters, dpa, epd, AFP)