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Europe must step up on defense, German Greens leader says – POLITICO

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Europe must step up on defense, German Greens leader says – POLITICO

The European Union must strengthen its defense cooperation and step up on security matters, German Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock said.

In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung published on Monday, she also emphasized the importance of transatlantic ties — saying that with Joe Biden’s recent election victory “a new chapter can be opened.”

“We should use this chance and reframe transatlantic relations, with Europeans on an equal footing with Americans. I would ask [Biden]: We should strengthen international relations across the Atlantic together — are you with us?” Baerbock said.

Yet she added that while it would be a “wrong signal” for Europe to distance itself from the United States, “we have to strengthen European sovereignty.”

The Greens are currently in opposition but with polls putting them at around 20 percent, in second place behind Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, they are set to play a major role in coalition negotiations following Germany’s 2021 election. The party has not yet decided whether Baerbock or her co-leader Robert Habeck — or someone else entirely — will run as the Green chancellor candidate.

The Greens have pacifist roots and have often been muted on defense matters. But the party’s new program, adopted at a congress last week, included references to NATO as an “indispensable” part of European security and expansion of EU defense cooperation.

“Europe has been revolving around itself for years, the Trump administration turned its back on the world. Authoritarian states fill the gap that emerged. That leads to Russia or Turkey becoming active in our neighborhood — and the EU, as in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, is left out,” Baerbock said, referring to the recent conflict in the South Caucasus, which ended with a Moscow-negotiated cease-fire.

That, she warned, wasn’t just “disastrous” for the people in the region but also for the “peace role that the EU once gave itself.”

Baerbock said Germany had to address French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposals on European defense. “That also means talking about [military] missions abroad,” she said.

She also showed herself open to increasing Germany’s defense budget, a longstanding American demand, in order to strengthen the country’s notoriously under-equipped military.

“Germany has increased its defense budget by €10 billion since 2016 … but the soldiers’ equipment and security have not noticeably improved,” she said. “Yes, in some areas more must be invested in order for rifles to shoot and night vision devices to work. But we also know how much money of the defense budget is wasted.”

However, she criticized NATO’s target for members to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense as “not really helpful.”

“We have to talk about strategic realignment first, then about spending,” she said.

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