ROME – As the Ukraine war grinds on, Italy is renewing its vow to meet a NATO spending target of two percent of gross domestic product but has confirmed it will delay it by four years amid a domestic political row over budgets.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Thursday Italy would boost spending from the current 1.4 percent of GDP to hit the target by 2028, rather than the 2024 deadline NATO members agreed to meet in 2014.
By confirming the date had been pushed back, Draghi appeared to solve a row with a member of his ruling coalition, the Five Star party, which threatened to oppose a pending parliamentary vote on the matter over concerns the cash would be better used on social programs.
The spat prompted commentators to predict a possible collapse of the government, until Draghi announced 2028 was now the confirmed date, adding that 2024 had been only “an indication, not an objective.”
He said that Italy was spending “a lot less” on defense than France and the U.K., but added many NATO governments had not yet met the two percent target, with Germany spending around 1.6% GDP.
Five Star meanwhile said it will accept 2028 as the target date.
Italy’s defense spend of 1.4 percent of GDP last year totaled 28.3 billion euros ($31.3 billion), meaning the country will need to add another 12 billion euros ($13.3bn) to its budget within six years to hit two percent.
That means Italy is joining a race to spend more on defense in Europe by states fearful of Russian aggression.
The Italian government has already opted to dispatch weaponry to the Ukrainian government – a move backed by a parliamentary vote on Thursday.
Five Star’s opposition to beefed-up spending did mirror fairly widespread sentiment among Italian voters, with a poll this week showing 61 percent were against increasing spending.
Italy has however already started to spend more on armaments in recent years, even during 2020 when Five Star were in power in a coalition with the center-left Democratic Party.
The defense minister at the time, Lorenzo Guerini, who has continued to hold the post during the current Draghi-led government, has overseen growing budgets which have allowed the acquisition of new ships, submarines, aircraft and army vehicles.
Overall spending grew from 26bn euros ($28.8bn) in 2020 to 28.3bn ($31.3bn) in 2021, while procurement rose in the same years from 5.45bn euros ($6bn) to 6.8bn ($7.5bn).
Speaking on Thursday, Draghi said that increasing defense spending needed to be linked to commonalities between European armies to build a “European defense” capability which would foster a common foreign policy for the European Union and in turn encourage “political union” among member states.
That, he added, made it an “existential objective” for the EU.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.