Merkel promises to meet defense spending target amid U.S. criticism

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Germany's new Defence Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, at the provisionally plenary hall of the German lower house of Parliament Bundestag at the Paul Loebe Haus in Berlin, Germany July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

STRALSUND, Germany (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday she was taking Berlin’s commitment toward its NATO allies seriously to further increase defense spending toward the agreed target.

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Germany’s failure to raise defense spending to 2% of economic output as mandated by the NATO military alliance.

The U.S. ambassador to Germany said last Friday that Berlin’s reluctance to spend more money on defense and its continued reliance on U.S. troops for protection were “offensive”.

Speaking at a panel discussion organized by Ostsee Zeitung local newspaper in the Baltic Sea town of Stralsund, Merkel said she took seriously the 2% defense spending target, adding: “We said we want to achieve 1.5% by 2024. And that is our common will.”

Merkel said the current budget would see another increase in defense spending which would lift Germany’s level to 1.41% by 2020 according to recent economic growth projections.

“And then we still have a lot of work to do for the next few years,” Merkel said. But she was convinced that Germany would meet its interim defense spending target of 1.5% target by 2024.

The center-right leader pointed out that Germany was actually not violating Nato’s defense spending agreement, sealed during a summit in Wales in 2014, as member countries agreed back then to lift defense spending “toward 2%”.

“So this means in the direction of 2%, and we will continue to go in this direction also after 2024,” Merkel added.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Gareth Jones