Greek soldiers march in front of parliament during a military parade to mark independence
One of the oddities of Greece’s bailout programme has been that, despite five years of punishing austerity, its military budget remains amongst the highest in the EU.
Early in the crisis, the issue became controversial during a dispute over whether Athens should follow through on a contract to purchase German-built diesel submarines – a move that was criticised as a way to curry favour with Greece’s largest creditor.
More recently, the far-left government of Alexis Tsipras raised questions when it agreed to sign off on a €500m programme to upgrade five aging US-made maritime patrol aircraft.
And according to a document obtained by Brussels Blog and posted here, the issue has come up again during the current standoff between Athens and its international creditors as a way to breach the fiscal gap the two sides are currently wrestling over.
To recap, Greece’s bailout monitors have pushed Athens to make up a €1bn-€2bn annual budget shortfall by cutting public sector pensions and raising value-added taxes on some items like electricity, which Tsipras has resisted. Creditors have insisted they are open to other ideas, but argue Athens has not come back with credible alternatives.
The three-page document, circulated among creditors, shows that two of Greece’s bailout monitors – the European Commission and European Central Bank – think defence cuts would be one way to make up the difference and have suggested changes (particularly moving to a less manpower-intensive force structure, a decision several Nato allies like the US have already taken) in talks with Greek negotiators:
British defence secretary Liam Fox, left, at June's meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels
Just how much support is Nato providing to rebels in Tripoli hunting for Col Muammer Gaddifi? There seems to be a significant amount of disagreement among alliance officials and leaders of some of its largest members.
This morning, Liam Fox, the British defence secretary, said in an interview with Sky News that Nato reconnaissance assets – presumably spy planes and drones flying over the Libyan capital – were directly aiding the opposition National Transitional Council’s operations.
“I can confirm that Nato is providing intelligence and reconnaissance assets to the NTC to help them track down Col Gaddafi and other remnants of the regime,” Fox said. But that would directly contradict Nato’s claims Tuesday, where a military spokesman vehemently denied any coordination with the opposition. Read more
Rebel fighters on the streets of the Libyan capital Monday morning
UPDATE: Jonathan Beale, the BBC’s defence correspondent, tweets that British defence secretary Liam Fox told him in an interview UK bombing operations in Libya have been halted.
Despite the stunning events in Libya, a Nato spokeswoman here in Brussels says the alliance is not currently planning any special briefing today on the campaign’s progress. The normal weekly news conference is scheduled for Tuesday. That may change, but for now Nato headquarters is keeping a low profile.
The alliance just released its regular daily update on the basic facts and figures of their Libyan mission, but it reveals little out of the ordinary. It notes that 46 strike sorties were flown yesterday (not out of the normal range), with most targeting facilities in and around Tripoli, including three “command and control facilities” and one “military facility”. It provides no more detail than that.
The alliance has for weeks been calling for a post-Gaddafi peacekeeping plan, but has insisted the United Nations has the lead and will only get involved if asked.
Last night, the alliance’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, issued a statement warning forces loyal to teetering leader Muammer Gaddafi to lay down their arms, saying Nato warplanes were still willing to act to protect Libyan civilians. Rasmussen’s full statement is after the jump. Read more
As the international community prepares for a gathering of political leaders in Qatar next week to discuss the crisis in Libya, it is worth watching the recent travels to Brussels and other European capitals of Jean Ping, head of the African Union commission. Read more
If the Greek debt crisis is teaching the European Union some harsh lessons about the design of its monetary union, no less serious is the message coming from Ukraine about the effectiveness of EU foreign policy. Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s newly elected president, agreed a deal with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia last week that gave Moscow a 25-year extension of the right to station its Black Sea fleet in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. In return, Ukraine secured a 30 per cent cut in the price of Russian gas deliveries. Read more
Next week’s summit of European Union leaders faces an important choice on Turkey. Should the EU toughen existing measures that are holding up Turkey’s EU accession talks, because of Ankara’s refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic? Or should the EU recognise that this would send completely the wrong message, just when Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders are trying to reach a comprehensive settlement of the long-standing Cyprus dispute?
Precisely because the EU is divided on the Turkish question – the Greek Cypriot-run government of Cyprus wants a strong line, and other countries are split between supporters and opponents of Turkey’s entry into the EU – it seems unlikely that a consensus can be reached in favour of placing additional obstacles in the path of Turkey’s negotiations. Read more
To follow up on Monday’s blog, in which I suggested it was extremely unlikely that Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini would achieve his ambition of becoming the European Union’s next foreign policy chief, the obvious question is – well, who will get the job?
Three names keep cropping up. One is Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a Dutchman who has served as Nato’s secretary-general since 2004 and who is about to be replaced by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister. The second is Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, who is another ex-premier. The third is Olli Rehn, a Finn who is the EU’s enlargement commissioner. Read more