Facing Turkish Menace, Greece Hikes Defense Budget 500%

Αssociated Press

In this photo provided on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, by the Greek Defense Ministry, worships from Greece, Italy, Cyprus and France, participate in a joint military exercise which was held from 26-28 of August, south of Turkey in eastern Mediterranean sea. (Greek Defense Ministry via AP)

ATHENS -- While cutting subsidies to families and artists and musicians left jobless during the COVID-19 pandemic, Greece's New Democracy will increase the defense budget by 500 percent amid constant pressure from Turkey.

The government draft budget shows spending will be cut by 4.6 billion euros ($5.42 billion) at the same time the defense sector will see a jump to 2.5 billion euros ($2.95 billion) for 2021, said Kathimerini.

The 2020 budget allocated 500 million euros ($589.12 billion) but with Turkey planning to drill for energy off Greek islands, including Crete – where the US Navy has a base at Souda Bay – the government is planning to buy Rafale fighter jets from France and a host of other weapons to build the arsenal. 

The government this year had spent 17.5 billion euros ($20.62 billion) in payments to workers temporarily laid off during a lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the Coronavirus that lasted up to 10 weeks for companies, who were also subsidized.

But the European Union that provided 32 billion euros ($37.75 billion) in COVID-19 aid in loans and grants but the government hasn't said how would be used as a second wave of cases has engulfed the country.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is trying to deal with that crisis while facing repeated threats from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who said no matter the outcome of unscheduled talks between the countries or threats of EU sanctions he will go ahead with his drilling plans.

That put the two NATO allies at loggerheads and with worry during the height of tension when Turkey put warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo to accompany an energy research vessel, Greece sending part of its navy there.

Despite its small population of 11 million people, Greece ranks 44th in the world in defense spending outright, ahead of South Africa, Argentina, and Hungary but spends 2.4 percent of its overall budget for arms and the military, above the worldwide average of 2.2 percent.

While defense was the big winner in a budget that expects 7.5 percent growth in 2021 while predicting an 8.2 percent drop this year – a 15.7 percent turnaround in less than a year – the government it would still give 200 million euros ($235.75 million) to the unemployed now.