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ECONOMY

Germany slashes growth forecasts amid Ukraine war

Germany on Wednesday slashed its economic growth forecast for 2022 as consumer prices continued to rise steeply amid the war in Ukraine.

Clothes shop Dresden
Two women walk past the display window of a clothes shop in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

The gross domestic product of Europe’s biggest economy is now expected to expand by 2.2 percent rather than 3.6 percent projected in January, the economy ministry said.

Inflation was meanwhile expected to jump to 6.1 percent for the year, “a rate seen only at times of the oil crisis or shortly after German reunification” in 1990.

Germany is “paying a price” for its backing of Ukraine against Russia’s unprovoked aggression, said Economy Minister Robert Habeck.

“We must also be ready to pay this price,” said the minister, noting that Germany was “paying through higher energy prices, through higher inflation and a slower growth”.

“This literally means that Germany will be poorer compared to the forecasts from three or four months ago.”

Berlin had previously pinned its hopes on a firm recovery for 2022 as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic begins easing.

But Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has laid waste to those plans. Instead, it has further exacerbated supply chain woes and pushed up prices of daily necessities.

Energy prices in particular have leapt since war broke out, forcing the first German companies to take drastic action like idling their plants while consumers are faced with hefty power bills.

READ ALSO: Russian gas stop promises ‘sharp recession’ for Germany

Energy threat

Germany, which is highly dependant on energy from Russia, was also facing a real threat of its gas supplies being cut off.

Russia’s Gazprom turned off its gas taps to Poland and Bulgaria earlier Wednesday over their refusal to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand for payment in rubles.

An immediate end to Russian gas imports would send Germany into a “sharp recession” next year, the country’s leading economic institutes said in a forecast published in mid-April.

“This has to be taken seriously,” Habeck said on Wednesday, stressing that Germany would continue to make its payments in euros or dollars in line with its European partners.

Converting payments into rubles is the responsibility of Gazprom, he said, acknowledging that there was some uncertainty around how Russia “will
interpret and apply” its recent decree on gas payments.

Habeck also said Germany had managed to start weaning itself off Russian coal and oil faster than expected in response to the war.

The share of crude oil imported from Russia has fallen from 35 percent before the conflict to around 12 percent, meaning a European embargo on Russian oil would be “manageable”, he said.

“This does not mean that an embargo would not significantly increase prices and that there would not be localised supply disruptions… but it would no longer lead to a national economic disaster,” Habeck said.

Berlin has also managed to reduce its gas imports from Russia to 35 percent, compared with 55 percent before the conflict, he said.

However, he said it was “not realistic” for Germany to completely ban Russian gas before next year, given the new infrastructure needed to diversify gas imports.

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POLITICS

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Germany's investments in defence in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine will transform it into the biggest contributor to NATO in Europe, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday.

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Alongside the United States, Germany is “certainly making the largest contribution” to NATO, Scholz said in an interview with the ARD broadcaster.

Speaking at the close of a summit of leaders from the Group of Seven rich democracies, Scholz said Germany was in the process of creating “the largest conventional army within the NATO framework in Europe”.

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Scholz announced a 100-billion-euro ($105-billion) fund to beef up Germany’s military defences and offset decades of chronic underfunding.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Bundestag approves €100 billion fund to beef up defences

He also promised to meet NATO’s target of spending two percent of GDP on defence, answering years of criticism from close allies that Berlin was failing to contribute enough to the alliance.

Russia’s invasion had led to a renewed conviction “that we should spend more money on defence”, Scholz said.

“We will spend an average of around 70 to 80 billion euros a year on defence over the next few years,” he said, meaning “Germany is the country that invests the most in this”.

Scholz’s announcement in February was seen as a major policy shift, upending Germany’s traditionally cautious approach to defence as a result of its post-war guilt.

Germany had steadily reduced the size of its army since the end of the Cold War from around 500,000 at the time of reunification in 1990 to just 200,000.

NATO allies are from Tuesday gathering in Madrid for a summit, where the United States is expected to announce new long-term military deployments across Europe.

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