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The Leopard that changed its spots: Scholz seeks to prove Germany’s serious on defense

The Leopard that changed its spots: Scholz seeks to prove Germany’s serious on defense

Chancellor plans new speeches on German defense policy and joint ‘Weimar triangle’ meeting with French and Polish presidents.
While Germany is on track to miss NATO’s 2 percent defense spending goal, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is planning two dedicated speeches to mark the first anniversary of the so-called Zeitenwende sea change in German foreign policy, claiming a bigger role as a security provider for Europe.

Scholz is preparing to speak at the Munich Security Conference in the Bavarian capital next weekend and to also issue a government declaration in the German Bundestag in the week of February 27, almost one year to the date after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the preparations.

In addition, officials are preparing a potential meeting of the Franco-German-Polish “Weimar Triangle” coalition on the sidelines of the Munich conference, which would bring together Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Polish President Andrzej Duda to discuss European security challenges, although the meeting has not been finally confirmed, according to two further officials in Berlin and Paris.

When it comes to Scholz’s individual speeches, the content is still being drafted, but the chancellor is expected to highlight the achievements of the first year of his foreign policy shift and claim a new German leadership role as a security provider in Europe.

In his speech last year, Scholz announced his government would set up a special €100 billion fund to swiftly upgrade its long under-financed armed forces, the Bundeswehr, and promised that Germany would in future adhere to the NATO goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense.

The historic foreign policy shift went hand in hand with Berlin reversing its previously negative policy on weapons support for Ukraine — though that tortured issue has continued to rear its head over the past 12 months.

Germany has continuously, albeit hesitantly, increased its military support for Ukraine and is now taking a leadership role when it comes to supplying German-made Leopard tanks to Kyiv. On Thursday, Scholz chided European partners to stop dragging their feet and also supply Leopards, so that a German-led coalition for sending 80 battle tanks to Ukraine can come together.

One controversial issue revolving around the Zeitenwende, however, is defense spending: Germany is currently on track to miss NATO’s 2 percent defense spending goal this year and likely also in 2024, despite the massive €100 billion special fund.

Berlin’s new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius is pushing behind the scenes to increase defense spending by €10 billion to around €60 billion as of next year in order to finance new investments such as ammunition purchases, and to adhere to the 2 percent spending goal, one official said.

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