Germans squabble over budget

Describing the level of military spending required by NATO members as “unrealistic”, Martin Schulz, leader of the German Social Democratic Party (SDP), and Thomas Oppermann, who heads the SDP in the Bundestag, issued a “clear no” yesterday to the “Trump and CDU/CSU” objective of 2% of GDP spent on defence.

Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz, disagree on the budgetary future of the Bundeswehr (Credit: European Union 2012 EP / Pietro Naj-Oleari)

In an article published by the media group Funke Mediengruppe, the two party leaders in the ruling “grand coalition”, called for a budgetary shift arguing that the increase in the German defence budget is not only unrealistic but above all “a bad objective”. With 1.26% of its GDP currently spent on defence, Germany will have to almost double its current budget of €37bn to reach the required NATO level of defence spending. That would make Berlin Europe’s principal military power, a situation no one would want, warned the leaders of the SDP, adding that the increase in military spending should go hand in hand with rises in the budgets for diplomacy, humanitarian assistance and crisis prevention.

Except that … humanitarian action, increasingly carried out in areas under terrorist threat, has no choice but to place itself under military protection. These deployments require modern and properly maintained equipment, as evidenced by the crash of a German Tiger helicopter in Mali on 26 July.

This position will not improve the popularity of the SDP in the Bundeswehr. In addition to repeatedly criticising the policies of Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, the SDP attracted the wrath of the air force in June by burying the project to acquire five Israeli Heron TP remotely piloted air systems.

Germany will reach the 2% advocated by NATO by 2024,” replied von der Leyen. “If the SPD now wants to reject the gradual recovery of investments, it can wave goodbye to the ongoing modernisation of the Bundeswehr and the commitment of additional staff,” she explained.

If it creates a split within the ruling coalition, the SDP project is unlikely to succeed. With just a month to go before Germany’s federal election, the Social Democrats are 15 points behind the Conservatives of Chancellor Angela Merkel who is almost certain to be re-elected on 24 September for a fourth term and who has reaffirmed her support for von der Leyen and her budgetary policies.