CDU party chief wants Germany to reach 2% NATO spending target

Party Chief of the Christian Democrats (CDU) Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer greets Chairman of Atlantik-Bruecke e.V. Friedrich Merz at the 2019 German-American conference in Berlin. [EPA-EFE/OMER MESSINGER] [EPA-EFE/OMER MESSINGER]

The leader of German Christian Democrats, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK), stated on Wednesday (12 June) that German military expenditures would have to be raised to NATO’s 2% spending target, while former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel proposed splitting Germany’s military spending into two funds. EURACTIV Germany reports.

At the start of her mandate, CDU chief Kramp-Karrenbauer made it clear that transatlantic relations were a priority for Germany. Her first trip abroad as party leader was to the US but current trade disputes are a thorn in her side. She underlined this in her keynote speech on Wednesday (12 June) at the German-American Conference in Berlin.

“What we now need is an unwavering adherence to the fact that our world is based on negotiated rules that have to be respected,” AKK said. According to her, this is the only way to preserve free trade and multilateralism.

For Germany, this would also mean, among other things, that military expenditures would have to be gradually increased to reach NATO’s spending target, set at 2% of a NATO member’s GDP. AKK would spend most of the budget on cybersecurity.

“It cannot be the case that new, small NATO members are forced to meet the 2% [target],  while we, as an economically strong country,  state that we will not be able to reach it,” the CDU party chief said. However, when attempts are made in Germany to increase government spending, a debate immediately erupts, with critics suggesting too much is being spent on rearmament.

The German defence budget is reaching levels that were last seen at the end of the Cold War. According to the German press agency DPA, military spending is currently at 1.35%, which corresponds to €47.32 billion. By 2020, spending is expected to reach €49.67 billion.

Germany on the defence over military spending shortfalls

Germany restated its commitment to higher defence spending on Wednesday (3 April), seeking to defuse tensions between Berlin and Washington after a storm of criticism from the Trump administration over Germany’s shortfalls in NATO contributions.

NATO fund for Eastern Europe and blue helmets in Ukraine

Former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat (SPD), also agreed to increase military spending.

For Germany, he suggested splitting the 2% military spending target that NATO members agreed to. He suggested that 1.5% of Germany’s GDP would contribute to strengthening the Bundeswehr (the German army), while 0.5% would go towards a NATO fund that aims to modernise the protection of Eastern European members.

“That would be a signal that Germany is willing to take responsibility for the security of Eastern Europe,” he said. According to him, this responsibility has been far too dependent on the US’ willingness.

Above all, one would have to urge Russia to accept the UN’s mandate to lead a blue helmet mission in Ukraine.

Gabriel made his audience listen attentively when he said that “Europe is the only vegetarian on a geopolitical stage of cannibals. We should say goodbye to this and become flexitarians.”

It is time for Europe to finally become an important player in the world, he added.

The global geopolitical shift did not only start with Donald Trump becoming president but had already begun under Barack Obama. And Europe did not seize the opportunity to strengthen its geopolitical role, according to Gabriel.

“In all the conflicts that take place on Europe’s doorstep, Europe has no say. And that has to change,” he said. Europe needs to start acting in unison.

As an example, he cited the Libyan conflict, in which Italy and France pursued completely opposite strategies. Unity had to be found on these issues, and Germany could not avoid playing a central role in this situation.

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The free trade system is at stake

AKK and Gabriel agreed that if Europe does not want to drift into meaninglessness, it should cooperate better. This is all the truer because Europe is already feeling the effects of the trade wars between the US and China, she said.

She described China as being the great systemic challenge of today, saying that China “is a strong competitor that is economically very successful but does not share our values.” With regards to the question of how Europe and the US are dealing with this challenge, the current freed trade is what is at stake.

At the same time, China is a competitor that can strengthen Europe, she added.

“We look with admiration at the Silk Road project. So what is preventing us from setting up similar projects with a view on the Mediterranean or even Africa?”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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