Belgium should meet NATO spending target earlier than agreed, says PM

Prime minister Alexander De Croo said on Thursday that Belgium should aim to meet NATO's defence spending target as early as 2029, rather than 2035 as his government has agreed.

De Croo faced questions in parliament on Thursday about NATO's 75th anniversary and took the opportunity to reiterate his party's position. The Open VLD party wants to see 2 percent of GDP spent on defence by 2029.

Belgium spent 1.1 per cent of GDP on defence in 2023, placing it near the bottom of the NATO rankings. Only Luxembourg ranks lower, with defence spending of 0.7 per cent of GDP.

Party position

De Croo's statement is unusual, as the 2029 target is a party position and not a government position. The Belgian government had previously agreed to aim to meet NATO's spending target by 2035.

Belgium does not have much room for manoeuvre to reach the NATO target more quickly. The country's sizeable budget deficit will continue to grow and is likely to exceed 5 per cent of GDP by 2026, the National Bank of Belgium warned in December.

Code of ethics

De Croo's remark raised eyebrows among the opposition and some majority MPs. "For the prime minister to use the chair for his own party narrative is unprecedented and shows that he is not speaking on behalf of the whole government," said Peter De Roover, group leader of the opposition party N-VA.

According to De Roover, De Croo's statement violated the code of ethics for ministers. "An MP questions the government to find out its position. Question time is different from a party congress," said a majority MP, who described the incident as "somewhat bizarre".



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