Bulgaria Should Boost Defense Spending, President Says after Security Meeting
The Consultative Council for National Security has recommended to Bulgaria's government to introduce a program that will help the country's armed forces meet NATO requirements, President Rosen Plevneliev has said.
Speaking after the council's meeting on Monday, Plevneliev said in a televised address that task involved upholding the principle of not decreasing defense expenditure and gradually boosting it to 2% of GDP until 2024.
In his words, the army's capabilities should be directed toward a more substantial interoperability with NATO forces.
Plevneliev, to whom a report on the state of Bulgaria's military was presented by Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev, warned that, under commitments the alliance's member states took at the 2014 summit in Wales (with him representing Bulgaria there), the money set aside for the defense should be increased, and a certain percentage of that sum is to be spent on modernization and investment.
The technological gap between Bulgaria and other member states also has to be narrowed, the head of state warned.
In his words, the government has to submit to Parliament a "Program for the Development of Defense Capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria" to bring modernization to the political agenda and to force a new plan for the armed forces, with the previous one having expired in 2014.
Plevneliev admitted that this year's move to freeze defense expenditure was understandable due to "emergency spending" the Bulgarian government was to embark on in 2014. He was referring to the crisis at Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB) which forced the cabinet into putting aside billions of BGN to cover deposits guaranteed under Bulgarian and EU law.
He said that participants in the Consultative Council for National Security had agreed that the security environment had deteriorated in the past months with older negative trends "developing" and "new ones emerging".
The President added that a "broad consensus" had been reached among political leaders and security chiefs, "with the exception of [leaders of] the Bulgarian Socialist Party and [nationalist] Ataka."
Called by President Rosen Plevneliev last week, it involves Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and ministers holding the Interior (Rumyana Bachvarova) and Defense (Nikolay Nenchev) portfolios.
Plevneliev and Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev have been at odds with PM Boyko Borisov in the past few months. The two have consistently demanded that additional funding be granted to the armed forces from the central budget, while Borisov has been adamant Sofia cannot afford the move.
Last week Borisov told a senior US representative that the government's first job is to "fix the state a little" and then to pursue other projects, including the overhaul of Bulgaria's aircraft fleet which involves acquiring a NATO-compatible type of fighter jet.
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