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Germany on course to break defense spending pledge

March 19, 2019

Government plans to spend less than promised on the military have drawn fire from the armed forces commissioner and the US Embassy in Berlin. Defense spending is projected to fall well short of NATO's 2 percent target.

A man in uniform looks at a Bundeswehr helicopter flying overhead
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul

2019: US criticizes Germany over defense spending

German armed forces commissioner Hans-Peter Bartels demanded Tuesday that Finance Minister Olaf Scholz "reliably" implement funding boosts for the Bundeswehr in line with Germany's NATO pledge.

The Finance Ministry said Monday that an extra €2 billion ($2.27 billion) was planned for the military in 2020, but Germany's military spending would drop in 2023 to 1.25 percent of its gross domestic product — well short of NATO's 2 percent target set for 2025 and Germany's promise to meet 1.5 percent by that year.

Next year's intended outlay of €45 billion — compared to €43 billion this year — would not suffice for a "fully equipped" Bundeswehr, said Bartels, who has often highlighted defects in aircraft, tanks and submarines and the "monstrous" military bureaucracy.

Read more: German military lacking equipment and recruits

"The troops expect that it [the NATO pledge] be predictably and reliably implemented," he said, referring to Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen's drive to retool Germany's military 25 years after the Cold War.

Hans-Peter Bartels
Military personnel advocate Hans Peter BartelsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen

Under Germany's concept of a parliament-controlled military, Bartels acts as intermediary for the Bundestag, especially as ombudsman for military personnel.

Grenell: 'Worrisome signal'

The outspoken US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, reiterated his criticism of Germany on Tuesday, insisting that NATO members stick to the 2-percent goal and "not run away."

The defense spending figures sent a "worrisome signal to Germany's 28 NATO allies," he said.

Otto Fricke, the budget expert for the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), said Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government, comprising her conservatives (CDU/CSU) and Finance Minister Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD), must acknowledge that the "good years are over."

The Finance Ministry has said that although the combined 2020 federal budget foresaw a 1.7 percent hike to €362.6 billion, ministries were under pressure to identify spending cuts of €625 million annually.

Richard Grenell
Richard Grenell said the plans sent a "worrisome signal" to allies

Last week, the Economy Ministry, headed by conservative Peter Altmaier, noted a subdued start to 2019, with the economy's outlook dampened by global trade conflicts and sluggish demand for industrial goods.

Municipalities alarmed

The anticipated slowdown should not mean less federal funding allocations for regional care of refugees, warned Germany's Association of Towns and Municipalities (DStGB) on Tuesday.

Recent successes in integration were now "endangered," warned the association's chief executive Gerd Landsberg, who recently called for a reform of Germany's welfare state.

Likewise, Armin Laschet, the conservative premier of Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, warned Scholz that intended cuts were "out of the question," given that many local bodies were deeply in debt.

"Those who cut back on integration in these times and leave highly indebted communities with social hot spots alone have lost all sensitivity to social priorities," Laschet told Dusseldorf's Rheinische Post newspaper.

Germany's largest tabloid, Bild, said Scholz planned from next year to introduce a "refugee lump sum" of €16,000 to be spread over five years to cover welfare spending on each newly arrived [recognized] refugee in Germany's 16 federal states.

Armin Laschet
'Insensitivity to social priorities,' says LaschetImage: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Kirchner

This would reduce the federal government's refugee costs from currently €20 billion to €16 billion per year, Bild reported.

In the first year, the allocation would be €6,000 per refugee, €4,000 in the second year, and €2,000 in each of the following years, the newspaper claimed.

ipj/amp (epd, dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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