Arms firms spent €6m lobbying Germany ahead of defence budget hike
The news raises questions over industry’s access to power, with influential politicians known to work with high-level arms firms representatives
The arms industry spent millions of euros lobbying German politicians ahead of the government’s decision to drastically beef up military spending, openDemocracy can reveal.
On 27 February, four days after Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, German chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that the country’s defence budget would be increased to more than 2% of GDP and €100bn would be invested into a one-time special fund for its armed forces.
Although this was framed as a response to the war in Ukraine, it had actually been in the pipeline for months, with Germany’s Defence Ministry pushing for a €102bn ‘special fund’ for the armed forces as early as October 2021. At the time, this was rejected by the new government coalition.
In February, however, the ministry's funding request was repackaged and presented as necessary in light of Vladimir Putin’s invasion. On the day of the announcement, it was greeted by overwhelming cross-party support and a standing ovation in Parliament, while arms companies’ share prices skyrocketed.
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Behind the scenes, arms firms have long urged Germany to increase its military spending. According to the German parliament’s lobby register, many of the companies now set to profit directly from the country’s increased defence budget – including Airbus, Hensoldt, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMG), Leonardo, Lockheed Martin, Rheinmetall and ThyssenKrupp – have collectively spent more than €6.4m lobbying parliamentarians since 2020. Asked to comment, a government spokesperson declared that “the government acts independently and at its own will”.
Direct access to power
The €6.4m is likely only the tip of the iceberg, as the arms industry uses a plethora of lobbying strategies. These include bringing together influential politicians and high-level industry representatives in structures known as ‘societies’, which essentially function as lobby associations. The three most influential societies in the defence sector are the Förderkreis Deutsches Heer (FKH), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Wehrtechnik (DWT), and Gesellschaft für Sicherheitspolitik (GSP).
Of the 38 people on the German parliament’s defence committee, at least seven members – including the current chair and vice-chair, plus a former chair – are also members of one or more of these societies. In this way, the arms industry has privileged access to the corridors of power.
The defence committee’s chair, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, who is also the deputy leader of Germany’s Free Democratic Party, sits on the DWT’s board. Also on the board is Lockheed Martin’s vice-president for Central and Eastern Europe, Dennis Göge, who used to work as an adviser to the defence ministry.
In recent months, Strack-Zimmermann has successfully pushed for Germany’s Tornado fighter planes to be replaced with Lockheed Martin’s F-35s. This was surprising, as many German and EU politicians have publicly backed the Eurofighter to be the Tornado’s sole replacement. In 2019 the debate caused a ruckus in the government when it was widely reported that the head of the German air force, Karl Müllner, had been fired by then defence minister Ursula von der Leyen for being too outspoken in support of the F-35. So that the government last month announced its decision to procure the F-35 perhaps demonstrates the influence the American company has on German decision-makers.
Strack-Zimmermann and the defence ministry did not respond to openDemocracy’s requests for comment.
While von der Leyen has moved on to become the president of the European Commission, Karl Müllner has recently made a comeback as a lobbyist, working for undisclosed defence companies.
Meanwhile, Dirk Niebel, who served as the minister for economic cooperation and development from 2009 to 2013, is now the chief lobbyist for German arms company Rheinmetall, another likely big winner of the spending bonanza.
At the European level, it seems arms trade lobbyists also have the ear of those in the corridors of power in Brussels. The amount the arms industry spent on lobbying the EU almost doubled between 2012 and 2017, and a huge increase in European military spending has since occurred. Defence budgets are mushrooming: a new €8bn European Defence Fund, for example, will for the first time make EU public money available for the research and development of high-tech military equipment, while the Orwellian-sounding European Peace Facility, an off-budget initiative beyond the scrutiny of the European Parliament, finances the provision of lethal weapons to countries outside the EU.
The response to the war has been primarily a militarised one and large amounts of sophisticated weaponry has been sent in. This happened on the back of policies developed as a result of arms industry lobbying and positioning themselves as experts. It is likely that this trend will be further entrenched during the war, with arms companies using it as an opportunity not just to boost their profits, but to bolster their roles as key and necessary expert advisers on Europe’s security strategy.
100 billion better ideas
Military spending will make the owners of arms companies richer, but it won’t make us any safer. As we enter the third year of the pandemic – and after much heel-dragging – the German government has finally approved spending €1bn on bonuses for healthcare workers. The amount now looks ridiculous compared with what the military will receive.
It’s for reasons like this that, the weekend before last, activists took to the streets across Germany to protest this unprecedented military spending by presenting '100 billion better ideas' on how the money should be spent. Suggestions included investment in healthcare, a just climate transition, and search and rescue missions for refugees at sea, among others. In the interest of a peaceful and secure future, we must push back against militarism and prioritise these ideas instead.
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