Europe talks war, but may not boost military spending


French President Francois Hollande says his country is at war, but experts say it's unlikely that France — or anyone else in Europe — will ramp up military spending soon.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said earlier this week that French spending on security should be excluded from calculations under European Union deficit rules, and politicians in other countries took note. Yet after years of working to tighten budgets, European nations are now grappling with boosting defense spending.

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French army soldiers secure the area around the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle as it leaves the naval base of Toulon, France, November 18, 2015.
Jean-Paul Pelissier | Reuters

"Obviously if ever there were a time it was clear Europe needed to increase spending on both internal and on foreign operations, it was now," said Christopher Chivvis, associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center and a senior political scientist at Rand Corp.

Those comments come after the deadly attacks in Paris last week and on the same day that terrorists seized a hotel in Mali — where France maintains troops after a successful military operation against anti-government, Islamic militants less than two years ago. Those French military actions have been cited as a successful model for other countries operating on a relatively tight budget.

But even with increased tensions in Africa, and in the wake of the Paris attacks, Hollande's government may not initiate significant new military expenditures.

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"France is unlikely to dramatically escalate its spending, as there's already considerable pressure to lower it," Stratfor military analyst Omar Lamrani told CNBC. "The Paris attacks are the highlights right now, but in a few months things might not be this intense any more."

In other words, Paris may reallocate its military budget to increase the focus on an air campaign against the Islamic State terror group or on domestic security concerns, but the overall amount is unlikely to increase much.

Chivvis predicted that Europe would see some uptick in military spending, but said it would come gradually.

"It'll be a complicated process," Chivvis said of a possible increase in European defense spending, citing questions of spending allocation, budget limitations and competing governmental commitments.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Renzi said Wednesday that his nation should be given the same European Union budgetary allowances as France. But those comments appear to refer only to the country's existing budget proposals.

Renzi's government has warned that IS could attack Rome during a Roman Catholic Holy Year beginning next month.

The previously submitted French draft budget for 2016 was considered "broadly compliant" with EU fiscal rules, although the European Commission had warned France against risks of missing the agreed spending targets in a report prepared before the Paris attacks.

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Hollande announced earlier this year, a few months after the deadly attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, that he planned to increase military spending over the next four years by 3.8 billion euros ($4.04 billion). Although the French president called the increase "significant," some military analysts and French lawmakers said it did not go far enough to combat terrorism.

While European and North American leaders talk about the fight against ISIS, Chivvis and Lamrani said that a primary driver of defense spending over the next few years may be concern about a Russian move against Eastern Europe.

Euro zone finance ministers plan to gather in Brussels on Monday for an extraordinary meeting to assess the draft budgets of the 19 countries sharing the euro.

— Reuters contributed to this report.