surinenglish

THE EURO ZONE

Hey, small spender

According to Donald Trump, Spain is not spending enough money on defence. The US president wrote to the new Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez this week, informing him that the country needs to up its military budget to 2% of GDP, in accordance with pledges made at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014; currently, Spain spends around 0.96% of its GDP on defence, which its new government says is plenty. It's a position that Trump's huffy missive is unlikely to change.

The US president's letter was also sent to Canada and several other EU countries, alerting them to a matter likely to top the agenda at a NATO summit in Brussels next week (indeed, only five NATO members hit or exceeded the 2% target last year). As far as the US president is concerned, though, Spain's small spending on defence not only breaks a deal made among NATO members in Wales four years ago - it also goes against a much more recent pledge.

Last December, the then Conservative defence minister María Dolores de Cospedal promised to increase the Spanish defence budget from around €10 billion a year (or 0.86% of GDP) to €18 billion a year (1.5% of GDP) by 2024 - an increase of over 70% in four years. The proposal was greeted with outrage by the Socialists, who argued that the money would be better spent on a public sector weakened by economic crisis. Socialist politician Ana Botella Gómez told De Cospedal that to plough so much extra cash into defence was wrong at a time when many Spanish families' lives were "marked by hardship and precarity".

The big change since last December, of course, is that Spain's Socialists are no longer voicing their dislike of Conservative policies from the opposition benches: they're in power. Gómez is now Secretary of State for Security in Sánchez's Socialist government and is not about to sanction a massive increase in military expenditure, as recommended by Spain's former Conservative defence minister. Trump seems to have forgotten, or perhaps doesn't care, that he's dealing with a whole new Spanish government from the one that was in office last December.

In any case, the PSOE is right to argue that it's not just how much you spend, it's how you spend it. Speaking with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Madrid on Tuesday, Sánchez said that Spain has proved itself a "firm ally" of NATO by committing troops to all its military operations, as well as all EU military operations; he also highlighted Spain's membership of the Global Coalition Against Daesh, for which it has provided almost 600 soldiers.

Trump can send the new Spanish prime minister all the nasty letters about upping defence spending that he wants - but they're unlikely to have the desired effect.