German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen leaves after speaking with the media at the Pentagon following a private meeting with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Von der Leyen has ordered a review of the 15 biggest procurement projects. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
BONN — The ruling conservative-left coalition of the German Bundestag Wednesday night passed a 2014 defense budget of €32.44 billion (US $44.13 billion), compared with a budget of €33.26 billion for 2013.
This reduction of around €800 million is about twice as much as the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel had envisaged in its budget draft this March.
According to a budget committee report, the reason for the additional cut in the defense budget was delays in major armament projects. Earlier this year, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen had taken the first steps to check these incidents and dismissed the state secretary responsible for the armament sector. She also ordered a review of the 15 largest procurement projects, such as the Eurofighter, and the entire armament process by a civil management consulting company.
These were part of various measures to close a gap in the federal budget of around €3 billion without raising taxes. For the current year, the federal budget is supposed to be €296.5 billion, which includes €6.5 billion in new debt. In 2013 the debt level was around €22 billion. For 2015, the German government seeks a balanced budget.
According to the ministry, there has been reduced expenses in 2013 due to delays, shortfalls or reduced numbers. Therefore, some financial cushion could be created after 2016.
According to the original budget draft, about half of the defense budget for 2014 would be spent for personnel costs. Around €4.3 billion are envisaged for defense acquisitions. Projects include: €900 million for the A400M strategic transport aircraft; €600 million for ships; €250 million for the Puma infantry fighting vehicle; €155 million for the Tiger combat helicopter; and €117 million for the NH90 transport helicopter.
About €800 million are envisaged for military research and development programs and around €775 million for international missions.
“To cut the defense budget is absolutely the wrong way, on the contrary, it is necessary to spend more money for the armed forces,” said Lt. Col. Andre Wüstner, the head of the German Armed Forces Association.
“We have always said that a volunteer Army is more expensive than a conscript Army, plus [there are] rising operating costs as well as new acquisitions in the armament sector.”
According to Wüstner, it is not enough to just talk about assuming greater responsibility in the world.
“You have to keep it ready, and [maintain] a modern armed force. Politics needs to understand: You cannot have this free of cost. Freedom and security come at a price.”
However, von der Leyen said during her recent visit to the US that the defense budget will rise in the coming years. Although it is still expected to fall short of NATO’s spending guidelines of 2 percent of gross domestic product, she argued that the percentage of GDP spent on defense is less important than how the money is spent.
The Bundestag will cast its final vote on the federal global budget this coming Friday and approval appears certain. Afterwards the Bundesrat, the German upper house which represents the federal states, is expected to pass the budget.
The budget should have been in effect since January, but the process was delayed due to the federal elections last fall and the subsequent establishment of the new government. Therefore, the government will have to start preparations for the 2015 budget almost immediately. ■