New German defence chief pledges to speed up race to Nato 2pc spending target

Jorg Luyken
New recruits march on the parade ground during a swearing-in ceremony of German Bundeswehr soldiers at the German Defence Ministry in Berlin, on July 20, 2019 - AFP

Germany’s new defence minister has picked an early fight inside the country’s troubled coalition, pledging to beef up military spending against the will of junior partners the Social Democrats.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will make it a priority to allocate a budget equivalent to 2 percent of the German economy to the Bundeswehr, the 56-year-old told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

The woman known as “mini-Merkel” due to her loyalty to the Chancellor, took over as leader of the Christian Democrats from Angela Merkel at the end of 2018 and is set to take a run at the Chancellery in 2021 at the latest.

“We made a clear commitment to NATO’s two percent goal. I know that we can’t get there from one day to the next, but I’m just as clear on the fact that we must get there in the end,” she said.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, who took over as defence minister on Wednesday, is likely to ignite yet another fire under Berlin’s tinder-dry coalition with her first concrete pledge in the role.

After she struggled for popularity and recognition early on though, Ms Merkel parachuted her into the defence ministry after it was vacated by new European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen last week.

The defence ministry is a notoriously tricky portfolio in Germany. Chronic under-spending on equipment has left the Bundeswehr overstretched, while the army has been dogged recently by allegations it has done too little to tackle extremism in its ranks.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer appears to have come to the conclusion that a bigger budget is the only way to avoid embarrassing headlines about malfunctioning helicopters while also appeasing the US over defence targets.

Germany committed itself to spending 2 percent of GDP on defence at a Nato conference in 2014. But its actual spending stills lags back at 1.3 percent with the Social Democrats reluctant to support a significant increase.

Berlin’s foot dragging has been a source of fury for Donald Trump, the US president, who has repeatedly lambasted his NATO ally on Twitter.

The Social Democrat-run treasury has set out the defence budget up until 2023 and plans to lower spending by a billion euros to €44 billion at the end of that timeline. Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer said she would use her influence “as party leader and defence minister” to fight for more spending at an autumn debate in the Bundestag on the budget.