Our defence budget needs to be strengthened, says Defence Committee Chairman Lubomír Metnar
Last week, the Chairman of the Defence Committee, Lubomír Metnar, attended the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on the EU's Common Foreign, Security and Defence Policy in Paris. In the meantime, the Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic has taken several major steps towards military and material assistance to Ukraine. The Czech Republic's budget is also being finalised, with CZK 88.1 billion planned for defence this year.
In this context, we asked Lubomir Metnar what the next steps of the Defence Committee of the Chamber of Deputies will be in the area of the framework of assistance to Ukraine, or the approval of the new budget.
Mr Chairman, what specific conclusions were adopted by the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on the EU Common Foreign, Security and Defence Policy, which took place in Paris at the end of last week?
In response to Russia's attack on Ukraine, the conference saw changes in both the programme and the invited guests, with an emotional speech by the Ambassador of Ukraine to France. All the speakers strongly condemned the Russian attack, and the declaration adopted by the conference participants expresses their position. The words that were heard the most were unity, united action, cohesion, sanctions and the need to increase and improve European defence. We agreed that there is a need to explain foreign and defence policy to citizens much more, and that it should be more effective and flexible.
It was also said that defence budgets have been sacrificed for a long time and that they need to be increased and stabilised, and I agree with that.
Germany has already announced massive investment in the defence industry. Do you share this position and should the Czech Republic follow the same path?
Yes, as I said today (2 March 2022) at the press conference, it is necessary to follow the path of increasing the defence budget, but it is necessary to say that the budget must be continuous, stable and, above all, effective. The budget must be increased gradually so that the department is able to process it.
Will the Defence Committee respond to the current developments in the conflict in Ukraine? Should it not, for example, speed up the discussion of standards that would make it possible to arm the Czech Army more quickly?
The Committee is reacting to developments in the conflict in terms of the agenda, i.e. the item 'Information on developments in Ukraine', in which a closed-door meeting on the current situation is being held between the Committee members, the Minister for Defence, the Chief of the General Staff and the Director of Military Intelligence.
As far as legislative work is concerned, there is a real need to focus on it. As far as public procurement is concerned, this law is too bureaucratic and does not take into account all areas relating to the acquisition of military equipment. When drafting a separate law on the acquisition of military equipment, the ministry can take inspiration from some European countries, such as Sweden, France and others, which have such a law. Defence projects are quite different in nature compared to "normal" public procurement. This should therefore be addressed by creating a separate law. The development of this legal norm must be primarily consulted and coordinated with experts in the Ministry of Defence.
In your opinion, are the sanctions against Russia at a sufficient level at the moment? Are they having the desired effect?
I think it is premature to assess the success of the sanctions. I hope that cutting Russia off, whether from airspace or the banking sector, will have an impact on the Russian economy and that these sanctions will have a positive impact on future developments.
The Defence Committee discussed the draft state budget for the MoD for 2022 and approved the expenditure of CZK 88.1 billion with the votes of coalition MPs in the committee. You are presenting a proposal that returns CZK 5.4 billion to the defence budget for investments and CZK 0.52 billion for salary adjustments. Do you think there is a chance of these adjustments being included in this year's budget?
In view of the current international security crisis, it is not a good political signal to reduce the budget from 1.4% to 1.3% of GDP. Germany has decided to take a big step, i.e. to increase the budget by EUR 100 billion. We should certainly stick to gradual growth, as we approved under the ANO Government.
I hope that the Minister will recognise that the defence budget needs to be strengthened. In the event that she does not support the proposal for the full 5.4 billion, I have also prepared a proposal to return 0.52 billion. This represents only the unrealised salary increases for the soldiers who helped in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and will continue to help in all crisis situations. Under the ANO Government, we approved CZK 1 400, but the current Government has reduced this amount to CZK 700. I do not agree with this. As a result of inflation and ever-increasing energy prices, the cost of living is rising, and we must give the soldiers the assurance that we will not leave them in the lurch.