Minister at the turning point: Lambrecht wants to make EU countries brothers in arms

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Germany has been rethinking.

Minister at the turning point: Lambrecht wants to make EU countries brothers in arms

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Germany has been rethinking. Defense Minister Lambrecht also wants to make Europe more independent of NATO. How, she now says at the Tiergarten conference. Whether the plan will survive European vanities is another matter.

A turning point, that means 100 billion euros for the Bundeswehr - at least that's how it could be summarized financially. But of course there is more at stake: a rethink, the question of how security in Europe can be guaranteed in the future. And one thing is clear: things cannot go on as before. The Bundeswehr, which some politicians believe should only be used to drill wells and help with forest fires in Brandenburg, must once again be able to defend Germany and its allies. At the Tiergarten conference of the SPD-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said on Tuesday how she imagines it.

She wants to make Europe more independent from the US and improve cooperation between Europeans. "We have to think beyond NATO," she said in the morning. Relying on the US for defense is no longer enough. During the tenure of US President Donald Trump, it has become apparent how "fragile" NATO is, even if the Biden administration is currently a very reliable partner. But Trump could return to the White House if he runs again. According to Lambrecht, there is still a danger that the USA will scale back its commitment to Europe. In short: "Europe must be able to provide its own answers to security questions."

This has been talked about since the Trump era, since then Germany has been struggling to achieve the two percent target - two percent of gross domestic product should flow into the defense budget. With the special fund, Germany will achieve this goal promised to NATO for the first time in a long time. But what if the billions are used up in a few years? The Union demands that the two percent be completed afterwards. In the traffic light coalition, the view on this is more diffuse. Green Party Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock rejects the two percent target as she believes it is too rigid a requirement, and some in the SPD also have difficulties with it. And so it is not surprising that SPD politician Lambrecht did not even mention the goal in her speech at the Tiergarten conference.

At the European level, it is French President Emmanuel Macron who is urging Europeans to develop their own defense capabilities. However, Lambrecht did not dare to make the big leap, as it sometimes comes from the Elysée Palace, but left it with only seemingly small ideas. She proposes that the EU should give grants when two or more countries join forces for armaments projects or want to jointly procure weapons.

In addition, not only the procurement system of the Bundeswehr, but also that of the Europeans should be changed, i.e. they should make representations to the armaments industry and place their orders together. In this way, a better price could be negotiated and, advantage number 2, the systems are compatible with each other. Lambrecht also cites this as a lesson from the Ukraine war: how unfavorable it is when allies do not use the same device. If a quasi-ally like Ukraine wants to use heavy weapons from Germany, for example, their soldiers first have to undergo painfully long training. Lambrecht said she sometimes despairs when she sees how differently tanks or even just radios are designed and hardly fit together.

That, too, is a long-running issue in the defense policy debate. "In how many election programs that was already in there," said Katharina Barley, Vice President of the European Parliament, afterwards in a panel discussion. Lambrecht himself acknowledged that national interests often stand in the way of the easy implementation of their proposals. You could see that, for example, with the planned flight system FCAS, which is supposed to succeed the Tornado that has just been decommissioned in around 20 years.

This is a major armaments project between Germany and France and Spain. According to the minister, there were "sensitivities" and economic interests in France in particular. It is usually a matter of what is being built where, i.e. to which country the billions are going and thus ensuring secure jobs. These are difficult political negotiations, typical of Europe, and difficult to avoid when big money is at stake.

Political scientist Jana Puglierin from the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) immediately put her finger in a previously unnoticed wound. If Germany spends a lot of money from the special fund for weapons from the USA, such as combat aircraft and helicopters, that is all money that is not invested in Europe. She herself admitted that the decision for systems like the F18 was made because they work and are available - and do not have to be developed in-house for decades. However, she warned that every EU member would now arm itself and there would be a kind of proliferation of armaments.

Claudia Major from the Science and Politics Foundation then gave the group a kind of reality check: "We have to be damn honest when it comes to the USA," said the security policy expert in the panel discussion on the Tiergarten Conference stage. "If we as Europeans want to close a gap, we're talking about 10 to 15 years." She also cited the new FCAS system as an example. It will probably not be ready for use until 2040, maybe not until 2045, she said. Currently, the United States not only provides 50 percent of NATO's conventional weapons in Europe, but also protects the continent with its nuclear weapons. "We have created something unique with the EU," she said. "We should be entitled to defend them ourselves. We should be ashamed that we can't."

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