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25th May 2019

Schulz opposes '2 percent' Nato goal

  • Schulz said there should be “disarmament initiatives instead of an arms race”. (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Martin Schulz, the centre-left contender to become Germany's next chancellor, said he would not pursue policies to achieve an increase of defence spending as agreed with Nato allies.

Schulz said the long-term goal of reaching a defence budget of two percent of gross domestic product (GDP), would mean that Germany would increase military spending by at least €20 billion in the coming years.

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“That can definitely not be the goal of a government led by me,” said Schulz at a press conference on Monday (10 April).

In 2014, Nato allies agreed in Wales that, by 2024, each member of the transatlantic military alliance would spend two percent of its GDP on defence.

The party or parties that end up as the new German government after federal elections on 24 September, will be set to be in power until 2021.

Following the election of president Donald Trump, the US has regularly reminded European Nato members that most of them are a long way from that goal, and told them to do more.

Currently, Estonia, Greece, Poland, and the UK are the only European Nato members that have met the target.

Germany, the EU's largest member state, is planning to spend €37 billion on defence in 2017, which amounts to around 1.2 percent of the country's GDP.

Schulz' main rival, chancellor Angela Merkel of the centre-right CDU party, has said Germany feels “obliged to reach this goal” of two percent defence spending.

“We will do everything we can in order to fulfil this commitment,” Merkel said in February, at the Munich Security Conference.

But the centre-left social-democrats, who have been in a coalition with Merkel's CDU and its sister party CSU since 2013, have recently been railing against the Nato pledge, despite them being in government when it was agreed.

Schulz' predecessor as Social Democrat leader, Sigmar Gabriel, now foreign minister, said last month the Nato target was non-binding. He added that the required increase in German military spending would be "totally unrealistic".

Gabriel had also said in February that the historic context should be considered when asking Germany to increase its military spending.

“One has to ask whether it would really calm Germany's neighbours if we turned into a big military power in Europe and ... spent over €60 billion a year [on] weapons,” Gabriel said, according to Reuters, adding he had his “doubts”.

Dalibor Rohac, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, recently noted that if Germany earmarked just over two percent of its GDP on defence, it would outspend Russia and become the world's fourth-largest military power.

“There are some good reasons to believe that this would be a good thing. Yet, it is far from obvious as to whether Germany’s neighbours and partners in Europe would be thrilled by this prospect,” he wrote in an opinion piece for EUobserver recently.

Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament, also appeared wary of that prospect.

He warned of “a policy which leads to having a highly armed army in the middle of Europe”, and said that there should be “disarmament initiatives instead of an arms race”.

The centre-left German has the backing of his friend and current leader of the European Commission, centre-right politician Jean-Claude Juncker.

Juncker said in February that Germany was wrong to hammer on about the two percent budget pledge, saying the American idea of security was “too narrow”.

Juncker attacks US on Nato spending

The commission head says the US should count EU development spending as a form of security, in a direct challenge to US comments on Nato.

US urges Europe to spend more on Nato

US threatened to reduce its involvement in Nato if Europeans did not spend more. It also criticised Russia, amid confusion on Trump's foreign policy.

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