Deutsche Welle: Is the army in Germany being modernized at the expense of social assistance?


With an almost spontaneous sentence, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is from the Social Democratic Party, sparked controversy in the political community in Berlin, by recently saying in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, “My goal is that after the end of the special fund, we will finance the expenses of the German army from General budget”.

The special fund, worth 100 billion Euros, was created by the Scholz government to finance the German army two years ago after the Russian attack on Ukraine, and the fund was financed through debt.

But according to current plans, the allocated funds will have been used by 2027, purchasing ammunition and ordering expensive weapon systems, but only until 2027.

According to expert calculations, after that, instead of about 52 billion Euros, allocated in the current budget; For defense, 108 billion Euros will be needed, more than double the amount.

The question here is, should these excess defense expenditures be saved through “retrenchment in other expenditures,” as Chancellor Scholz briefly pointed out in the interview?

This can only happen in the largest item in the budget, which is social spending. In this year’s 2024 budget, the government allocated about 176 billion Euros, more than a third of the entire budget, for social assistance and unemployment assistance for the unemployed, other socially disadvantaged groups, and retirees.

Roderich Kiesewetter, a defense expert in the Bundestag bloc of the opposition Christian Democratic Union party, believes that the German army needs significantly more money to be able to operate as a truly modern army and defend the country against any possible attack.

In this, Kiesewetter, who was a former army officer, agrees with the German Government Commissioner for Defense, Eva Högel of the Social Democratic Party, who believes that there is a need for an amount of 300 billion Euros.

In his interview with DW, Kiesewetter referred to many of the crises that Germany faced during a short period, such as the Ukraine war and the Gaza war, and said, “In this situation, it’s necessary to explain to people that priorities must be adjusted and set, and something must change if we want to continue living in freedom, and democracy, without the necessary security, the economy will collapse over time, and completely different restrictions on social spending will have to be imposed if Ukraine collapses and millions are displaced”.

“Putting defense expenditures against the social budget is a completely out of place discussion, given the threats to which Germany is also exposed,” says Kiesewetter.

But there is a great deal of tension and excitement, especially within the Socialist Party and the Green Party, the two coalition partners.

The question is, Tanks and weapons instead of social assistance and pensions?

That’s what many headlines in Germany say.

According to the Secretary-General of the Social Democratic Party Bundestag member, Kevin Kühnert, Chancellor Schulz was misunderstood, as Kühnert said in an interview with German Channel 1 “ARD” that “social security and regional security for Germany, the European Union and NATO are two inseparable sides of the same coin”.

But Kühnert’s party colleague and Bundestag member, Ralf Stegner, was more specific in his interview with Der Spiegel magazine, saying that internal and external security should never be placed in the face of social cohesion.

He added that, therefore, “it’s necessary either to create a special fund to modernize our country or at least to reform the debt suppression mechanism”.

Stegner warned that increasing military spending with simultaneous social cuts and adherence to the debt brake mechanism would strengthen the position of right-wing populists.

In fact, the Constitution provides for a debt brake mechanism, which means that the government can only take out new loans to a very limited extent.

Therefore, the government chose to create a special fund for the army.

The special fund is debt borrowed from outside the budget.

The government cannot create such funds without limits, and this can be understood from what Chancellor Olaf Scholz indicated in his interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

For her part, the head of the Green Party, Ricarda Lang, believes that this path can be taken, and she said in recent statements she made in Berlin, “This would be a way to ensure that we spend enough on defense,” and Lang added, “Funding cannot come from the current budget; Just… We must ensure that security is not pitted against social security in the country”.

The Liberal Party, the junior partner in the government coalition, appears to have little problem with cutting social spending.

In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, Alexander Müller, the party’s defense policy official, said, “We need more money to permanently cover the expenses of personnel, supplies and ammunition… One doesn’t do this through additional debt, but rather priorities must be redefined in the regular budget”.

The debate has only just begun and is still going around in a vicious circle, as the debt brake mechanism prevents resorting to new debt in the budget.

To change this mechanism, the government needs a two-thirds majority in Parliament, and thus it needs the votes of the opposition Christian Union bloc, which is made up of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union parties, which the Christian opposition rejects, so, should a new special fund be created?

This seems like the most likely possibility, however what is beyond dispute is that the German army urgently needs modernization and development.

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