ROME ― Italy’s politicians have been urged by a leading think tank to pass a bill now languishing in parliament, which introduces six-year defense spending plans to give stability to Italy’s poorly funded armed forces.
Andrea Margelletti, the head of Italy’s Centre for International Studies, called for action as Italy’s political parties struggle to form a government after March 4 elections produced a hung parliament.
Voters turned their backs on the governing center-left Democratic Party but failed to give a clear mandate to a center-right coalition or the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, is now holding talks with party leaders to try and forge a working coalition, but may be forced to call fresh elections.
Meanwhile, a bill introduced in February last year to shake up Italy’s armed forces and put funding on a more stable footing was put on the back burner in parliament and not voted on before parliament was dissolved ahead of the elections last month.
“It falls to the new government to take this project forward as a signal to the whole world,” said Margelletti.
The bill contains measures to increase synergies between Italy’s armed forces and beefs up the powers of the chief of staff, while introducing a role of new national armaments director to oversee logistics across the three services.
The bill’s provisions were based on recommendations in a defense white paper issued in 2015, which envisaged Italy maintaining a full range of capabilities to ensure military superiority in the Mediterranean region, all on a tight budget.
The bill envisaged six-year funding laws to introduce greater certainty in defense acquisitions for military planners and industry. Currently Italy draws up annual defense budgets, which contain forecasts for the subsequent two years, but are not binding.
Margelletti issued his call to politicians as a new report by the Centre for International Studies calculated that Italy’s true defense spending is currently 1.2 percent of GDP, far lower than the 2 percent set down as the ideal spending level by NATO.
Applying international criteria to determine Italy’s defense spending is a complex matter because funding reaches the armed forces from different ministries, and for years planners were content to leave it that way to avoid the attentions of budget trimming politicians.
Starting from the Italian defense ministry’s own funding in 2017 of €13.2 billion ($16.4 billion U.S. dollars), the think tank added top-up funding for domestic
procurement released by the industry ministry, spending on military missions abroad, spending on Italy’s paramilitary Carabinieri police who serve in military missions overseas and other outlays.
The total came to 20.79 billion euros, equal to 1.21 percent of GDP, the report said.
That marked a steady decline from spending in 2008, a decade earlier, which stood at 1.35 percent of GDP, the report said. Over the same period of time, spending on Maintenance and Operations had dropped 52 percent, from 2.7 to 1.3 billion euros.
“The Centre believes that at least pushing spending to 1.5 percent of GDP in the next five years would be sufficient to return readiness to acceptable levels and to safeguard modernisation which can no longer be put off,” the report stated.