Czech populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the leader of Ano, pledged to Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg on March 22 that the Czech Republic will double its defence budget by 2024, to 2% of GDP.
If Babis keeps his promise, annual spending would increase to CZK127bn (€5bn) by 2024 from the current CZK66bn. Czechia’s spending on defence has already increased from 0.65% of GDP to 1.05% since 2014. Czechia is thus spending half of the required 2% and is fifth from the bottom among Nato countries.
It is unclear whether the promise will be realised. However, Babis’ words — the prime minister also stressed Czechia’s commitment to Nato — represent Ano’s pro-Nato stance, at least as presented abroad. Ano should indeed be considered as pro-Nato, but with its populist stance this message is not so clear for the domestic audience.
“It was very interesting meeting and talking. We discussed, among other things, the deepening of cooperation between Nato and the EU and agreed that all the EU’s defence initiatives have to complement the activities of Nato. Our country is and will be a trustworthy ally,” Babis said during joint press briefing, and highlighted that Nato has a significant role in the security and prosperity of Czechia.
“Prague is determined to fulfil its commitments,” Babis added. “Our government is, in fact, increasing its spending on defence. If you look at our spending since 2014, we increased it by 30%, or by 10% annually, which is a good trend,” Babis stated, and pledged to increase the budget to 2% in 2024.
The recently announced competitive tendering on 210 new combat vehicles for CZK53bn has given hope that the increase in overall defence spending will be significant and real. This deal would be the biggest ever for the defence ministry. Its head Karla Slechtova (Ano) is also expected to sign off the purchase of 80 chemical-unit patrol vehicles for CZK5.1bn soon.
Overall, the investment package for defence is thought to be CZK150bn until 2026. Slechtova wants to sign an agreement on the 210 vehicles by the end of 2018, and in 2019 purchase assault rifles or grenade launchers for CZK7bn.
One obstacle for a rapid hike in defence spending could be the Socialists (CSSD), who consider the planned increase too radical. The CSSD is a prospective coalition partner for Ano, so the amount could change during negotiations over the government.
Possibly playing to the domestic audience, Babis highlighted that he had raised issues relating to migration with Stoltenberg. “We also discussed that if Nato wants to remain trustworthy, it has to deal with the main concerns of our citizens over their security,” he said on March 22. He was referring to the Northern Africa and Middle East (MENA) region, where the problems, according to Babis, connected with migration and terrorism emerge.
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