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Germany approves constitutional change to boost military

BERLIN — German lawmakers on Friday overwhelmingly approved a constitutional change enshrining a special €100 billion fund meant to rapidly upgrade the country’s military in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The vote — with 567 lawmakers in favor, 96 against and 20 abstaining — was the result of a bipartisan agreement made last week between the center-left government coalition and the primary center-right opposition bloc. It follows through on a pledge Chancellor Olaf Scholz made in the early days of the war to modernize Germany’s underfunded military and reject its long-standing refusal to send weapons to conflict zones.

In a speech before the vote, Finance Minister Christian Lindner, whose business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) usually don’t support big government spending efforts, emphasized the significance of the step, comparing it to Germany’s decisions to rearm and join NATO in the 1950s.

“We are facing up to our historical responsibility,” Lindner proclaimed, noting that negotiations to strengthen the military were occurring at the premises of the former Reich Aviation Ministry, where “Germany’s aggressive militarism was advanced decades ago.”

“At that time, Germany’s military strength in Europe was feared,” he added, speaking on behalf of his governing coalition partners, Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens. “Today it is feared in Europe that Germany has military deficits and that is exactly what we ended in this historic place,” he said.

Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, from the SPD, said the war had shown Germany must be able to have a military that can defend its values — and aid its allies.

“We also owe that to our allies in EU and NATO now that Putin has destroyed the European peace order,” she said, adding that beyond the special fund, Germany would now live up to its NATO commitments.

For years, Germany failed to meet the NATO goal of each member spending at least 2 percent of economic output on defense, a shortcoming that has angered allies and is supposed to be removed with the help of the billions agreed on Friday.

The money also aims to end years of defense austerity in Germany, which has resulted in an under-equipped Bundeswehr — part of why Germany has been accused in recent weeks of not doing enough to help Ukraine militarily.

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