The Government has approved the return of five billion crowns to the defense budget - the Ministry of Defense may continue with acquisitions

The Government has approved the return of five billion crowns to the defense budget - the Ministry of Defense may continue with acquisitions
01 / 04 / 2021, 10:00

"The Government has kept its word and approved the return of the remaining CZK 5 billion to the budget of the Ministry of Defense. The fight against coronavirus has once again shown how important the Czech Army is. I hear praise from soldiers on all sides,“ said Minister of Defense Lubomír Metnar. After three months, the Defense received the return of the promised funds. For this reason, the MoD will not have to intervene in the planned acquisitions, such as tracked IFVs or self-propelled guns.

Prime Minister Babiš rejects cuts in the Army budget, headlines announced at the turn of November and December. This was followed by a Government concession to the Communists, who, in support of the draft state budget for 2021, demanded a reduction in defense spending by 10 billion crowns, and their transfer to the Government budget reserve, for the so-called "fight against covid". The communists argued for the "futility" of some military acquisitions, primarily the purchase of the tracked IFVs worth the planned 52 billion or self-propelled guns for 6 billion, but also by the already signed acquisition of Venom and Viper helicopters for 18 billion.

See also: Czech Army acquisitions for 2021 – the investments should reach 25.1 billion

"I expect that 10 billion will return to the defense budget at the beginning of the year," Prime Minister Babiš said before Christmas. However, this did not happen neither at the beginning of January nor until the end of January. At an extraordinary meeting at the end of January, the Government decided to return five billion, half of the original amount. And another vague promise was made that the remaining money would be given to the Army in February. It did not happen. In the course of March, specific examples of the risks posed by the reduction of the defense budget began to emerge, just like critics of the Government's procedure warned against them. The loudest were the members of the House Defense Committee, headed by its chairwoman Jana Černochová. Minister Metnar reiterated that if the defense does not get the entire 10 billion back into its budget, he will resign. He explained the postponement of this step with confidence in the promise that the money would be returned. But apparently he was also running out of patience, and he spoke publicly in the sense that he was trying to submit the topic to the Government's program repeatedly, and without success.

In the short term, the Ministry of Defense dealt with the reduction of its budget by transferring funds in the chapters of mandatory and operational expenditures, so as not to disrupt ongoing and planned investment projects. After all, the Prime Minister's public promise that the money would be returned to the defense budget was made. Over time, however, it got into the expected situation that these transfers endangered the funds for the payment of soldiers. By definition, mandatory expenditures cannot be definitively reduced. It is certainly possible to save in operating costs, but hardly in such significant amounts. As a result, the lack of money cannot be solved other than by restricting investment, and thus by de facto acceding to communist demands. There is no real threat of non-payment of soldiers - but fundamental changes would have to take place in the acquisitions chapter. The negotiated and approved development of a NATO member state's Armed Forces would be affected by the Communists in the fourth decade after the Velvet Revolution, all due to the Government's weakness and its unreliable approach to defense.

Somewhat paradoxically, at the same time as the pressure to reduce the defense budget, the chairman of the Communist Party required the Government to make an unplanned and in the past rejected purchase of four L-39NGs from Aero Vodochody for the Aviation Training Center (CLV) in Pardubice. Despite criticism of the NATO and populist rhetoric that the Army does not "need" new cannons, but is to help the healthcare during the pancdemics (which it does very intensively), the Communists care about the level of training of Czech military pilots, ie allied pilots who would use CLV’s services. It will be more than interesting to see what is really behind this pressure and whether it is in any way related to the Russian contacts of the new majority owner of Aero Vodochody, producer of the L-39NG.

See also: The Defense Committee rejected the schedule for the purchase of IFV‘s: The contract should not be signed at the time of the election

At first, the approval of the state budget was at stake, in which the Government could not count on support of the opposition other than by the Communists, but later also, for example, prolonging the state of emergency. It was very important for the Government, and even there it was very difficult to seek support in the House. The Defense Committee called on the Government to return five billion crowns to the budget of the Ministry of Defense at its last meeting, adding that otherwise the Government „threatens the security of the state.“ On Monday, the return of five billion was approved. This is good news for the defense and the Army of the Czech Republic. The true meaning of this almost four-month uncertainty is not easy to discover.

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