For members of the Trump administration hoping that Germany would give its defense budget a boost over the next few years, the leader of the Social Democratic Party has some bad news should he ever get elected.
Martin Schulz, who was elected chairman of the SPD last month and will lead the center-left party into a general election scheduled for September 24, said on Monday he would not push for Berlin to meet a military spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product agreed upon by NATO members.
“If I interpret it correctly, all that was agreed was that we’d try to approach it,” Mr. Schulz told journalists in Berlin.
His comments echoed remarks made last month by Sigmar Gabriel, his predecessor as SPD leader and the country’s current foreign minister.
That sets him apart from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will be vying for a fourth term in office in September. While she has won some praise for standing up to Donald Trump on issues like trade and liberal values in the last few months, the need for Germany to meet its military spending commitments is something she has tended to agree with.
“Twenty billion euros or more in additional defense expenditures would certainly not be a goal my government would pursue.”
Along with other members of the alliance, Germany agreed to ramp up its annual defense spending at a NATO summit in Wales three years ago. By 2024, NATO members should dedicate 2 percent of their economic output to their armed forces annually.
Germany is planning to spend €37 billion ($39.3 billion) on defense this year, or just 1.2 percent of its GDP. Ms. Merkel has pledged to boost that figure, though she hasn’t made clear exactly how she’ll reach the goal and suggested other spending on security or even development could be included. Ever since Donald Trump moved into the White House, the US has pressed European NATO members that most of them are a long way from achieving the 2-percent goal. Mr. Trump has repeatedly demanded allies pay their “fair share” to the alliance, though he said he welcomed Germany’s promises on the subject during a testy meeting with Ms. Merkel in Washington.
But the SPD leader flatly said he disagrees, and suggested he’ll be happy to make it a campaign issue for September. “Twenty billion euros or more in additional defense expenditures would certainly not be a goal my government would pursue,” he said.
For Berlin, keeping the promise it made in the wake of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula would be expensive – and deeply unpopular with voters. In a country with a history of wars and where military spending is viewed with skepticism, urging for more defense spending will not go down well with the public just a few months before a hotly contested general election.
Early March, Mr. Gabriel said the 2-percent target was a suggestion and not a binding target. He added that Germany would not refuse to increase defense spending, but that it was “completely unrealistic to raise expectations in Germany or among our partners that we will add €30 billion ($31.6 billion) to our defense spending over the next 8 years” – the amount required to reach the 2 percent threshold.
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a member of Ms. Merkel’s conservative party, has pressured the governing coalition to boost military spending. The country’s defense budget is on track to reach €39.2 billion by 2020.
To meet the NATO target of two percent, the expenditure would have to skyrocket to €75 billion just four years later.