Speech by Ms Bärbel Bas, President of the German Bundestag, at the High Level Meeting of Speakers of Parliaments of NATO Member Countries
2 June 2023, Vilnius
Photo by Viktorija Chorna, Office of the Seimas
Madam President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly,
Let me also thank you for this initiative, Speaker Čmilytė-Nielsen. It is important for us, the speakers and presidents of the NATO members’ parliaments, to be meeting here too. The foreign policies of all our countries have important parliamentary dimensions.
Our Alliance has seldom been as united as it is now. Both outwardly and inwardly, it is clear: our pledge of mutual defence holds. NATO deterrence works - and it’s now growing even stronger.
Politically and strategically, the accession of Finland - and Sweden, soon - is a major gain for our Alliance.
I very much hope that Sweden’s accession will also quickly become a reality.
Equipping the Bundeswehr
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the foreseeable future, we need to organise security against and in opposition to Russia. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has showed that irrefutably.
I will also voice this self-criticism here in Vilnius: we staked our hopes on cooperation with Russia for too long. For too long, we did not want to admit what our central and eastern European partners in particular warned us about. We had to change our mindset. Many Germans were pacifist by inclination. So was I personally. I left my pacifism behind in Bucha and Irpin in May 2022.
Germany has benefited from NATO’s protection for a long time. I expressly thank our partners for that. We will not forget that protection. At a special session of the German Bundestag on 27 February 2022, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke of a watershed moment.
What this means is a strategic realignment of our foreign, security and defence policy. But it also means a change of mentality.
Only now do many Germans agree that defence spending can contribute to security.
For many years, we saw our Bundeswehr primarily as a campaign-oriented force. Despite all our Allies’ admonitions, we invested too little in our army. Now, we are working hard to strengthen our national and Alliance defence. Exactly a year ago, the German Bundestag passed a 100-billion-euro special fund to equip the Bundeswehr.
To take that decision, we changed our constitution by a cross-party majority! Our parliament is largely united behind the change of paradigm. We are determined to stand up for our security and for our partners’ security. The special fund is intended for costly and multi-annual armaments projects.
It underlines our will to meet the NATO two-percent target. In the economic plan for the special fund, for example, investment is earmarked to procure F-35 combat aircraft or new CH-47 heavy-lift transport helicopters. Framework contracts have been concluded for the manufacture of new battle tanks, armoured infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers. The Budget Committee has just approved hundreds of millions of euro for eighteen new Leopard 2 A8 tanks and for another twelve PzH 2000. Among other things, these models replace the eighteen Leopard 2 tanks and the fourteen PzH 2000s that we have supplied to Ukraine.
Our Bundeswehr is to be swiftly returned to full operational capability. In the past, procurement and the equipping of personnel with the necessary materiel have taken too long. That will change.
In the Bundestag, we have passed the Procurement Acceleration Act. But we also know, of course, that the special fund alone will not be enough. Our armed forces need to be properly funded for the long term. We want to strengthen our Alliance and defence capabilities on a long-term and sustainable basis. We are therefore also increasing our defence budget. In 2022, it exceeded 50 billion euro for the first time.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Operational readiness is more than being properly equipped. It demands awareness of responsibility, clear structures, swift processes – at the civilian level as well as the military. We are also working hard on these elements.
It goes without saying that operational readiness requires a well-staffed army. Our goal is a Bundeswehr with 203,000 armed personnel. Over the coming years, it is to grow by 20,000 women and men. As that aspect, too, makes clear – we are talking about long-term tasks.
Measures to protect our Allies
Ladies and gentlemen,
To underscore this once again, Germany takes its mutual-defence obligations to its Allies very seriously. Our work to secure the Alliance’s eastern flank demonstrates that clearly. Next week, I will be holding talks in Estonia, Latvia and here in Lithuania. I will also visit the NATO forces in Rukla.
This is a perfectly normal part of my role – the Bundeswehr, after all, is a parliamentary army. Bundeswehr deployments require the consent of the Members of the Bundestag.
Germany has been shouldering responsibility as the Framework Nation here in Lithuania since 2017. At Lithuania’s request following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Bundeswehr swiftly sent 350 additional personnel to reinforce the eFP Battle Group. There are currently more than 800 German armed forces personnel here in Lithuania as part of the enhanced Forward Presence.
NATO has shown that the Allies respond directly to any assault on one of their number. Beyond that, the Bundeswehr is providing a brigade for the defence of Lithuania. Germany is assuming regional defence responsibility here, in line with the vision of the new NATO Force Model. The Forward Command Element of that German brigade is already in place.
In Slovakia and Poland, the Luftwaffe is making an important contribution to the integrity and airspace security of the Alliance area. The – defensive – stationing of air-defence missile systems is part of NATO’s enhanced Vigilance Activities.
The German navy is also participating in the maritime component of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force and has been providing leadership for Task Group 441.01 since 6 January 2023.
Germany’s alliance solidarity with our eastern partners is strong. And we will continue to expand our level of engagement in the Alliance.
In future, within the framework of the new Force Model, Germany will make available up to 30,000 rapid-deployment troops within the first 30 days following activation, as well as 85 aircraft and marine vessels. If required, planning is in place for additional follow-on forces to be provided.
Altogether, the new NATO Force Model will cover almost the whole of Germany’s armed forces.
Support for Ukraine
Ladies and gentlemen,
Germany is one of Ukraine’s biggest supporters. It was no later than April 2022 that the German Bundestag, by a broad cross-party majority, established the framework for our support in a motion for a resolution.
Currently, we are putting together a new package worth more than 2.7 billion euro. It includes artillery, air defence, armoured combat vehicles and engineering capabilities. In the EU training mission EUMAM UA, for example, we are training Ukrainians to use the Leopard 2 battle tank and the Marder 1 A3 infantry fighting vehicle. Germany is providing its own headquarters to coordinate training. By the end of the year, the Bundeswehr intends to have trained nine battalions of Ukrainian troops for wartime operations. Ukrainian personnel were already completing training on the PzH 2000 and the MARS medium-range artillery rocket system in 2022. The Ukrainian armed forces are now using both systems with great success. We will continue to support Ukraine with all possible determination. We will maintain that support until Ukraine has prevailed and completely re-established its territorial integrity.
The people of Ukraine are demonstrating that you have to be able, when push comes to shove, to defend your existence and your freedom.
Part of what that means is that we Europeans need to take on more responsibility. Within Europe as elsewhere, we need to strengthen our defence structures and capabilities. The conversation about Communitising security and defence policy is one we need to have with the blinkers off.
We need to engage in wide-ranging strategic debate about our security and defence – within our countries, within the EU, and within the transatlantic Alliance.
As president of a parliament, I say this: security is not the business of our governments alone. These debates belong in our parliaments. Defence and security issues need broad-based legitimacy and public approval. I therefore thank you, Madam Speaker, for inviting us in this format to engage in just such discussions.