May 3, 2018 / 3:46 PM / a year ago

German conservatives urge defense spending hike to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives called on Thursday for defense spending to rise to 1.5 percent of economic output by 2021, well above the 1.27 percent rate contained in the budget of Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat.

FILE PHOTO: Andrea Nahles, leader of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), addresses the lower house of parliament in Berlin, April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo

Either proposal would leave Germany still far short of a NATO target that calls for members to move toward spending 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024, an objective vigorously pushed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Scholz’s budget has come under unusual attack from Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Development Minister Gerd Mueller, who wrote on Wednesday that it violated a coalition deal signed by the political blocs in February.

The dispute deepened on Thursday, with conservative politicians calling for increased military spending, while Social Democratic leader Andrea Nahles argued that while Germany needed to equip troops, an arms race should be avoided.

The two sides must work out a compromise by July 4, when Merkel’s cabinet is due to consider a more comprehensive 2019 budget proposal, and a longer-term spending plan.

Johann Wadephul, deputy leader of the conservatives in parliament, said it was “absolutely reasonable and realistic” to boost military spending to 1.5 percent of GDP, or around 49 billion euros, by 2021 from around 1.24 percent in 2018.

Hans-Peter Bartels, the military’s ombudsman in parliament and a Social Democrat, has also called for an increased spending rate of 1.5 percent of GDP, given shortfalls in personnel and equipment that are hampering military readiness.

But his party’s leaders disagree.

Nahles told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung daily that her party would “not participate in an arms race spiral” while Johannes Kahrs, a budget committee member, told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that the defense ministry needed better leadership, not more money.

“The conservatives have led the ministry since 2005, and the airplanes aren’t flying, the tanks don’t run and the ships aren’t sailing,” he said.

Wadephul said the SPD agreed to boost spending when it signed up for another grand coalition with Merkel.

“The coalition agreement is very clear. The grand coalition agreed to meet its international commitments, both for defense and for development assistance,” he said.

Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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