Italy gives itself the means, but struggles to find the military for its new defense ambitions

While Italy is working to increase its military resources, both in terms of equipment and budget, it is encountering major difficulties in meeting its recruitment objectives, which threatens its defense ambitions.

The increase in appropriations devoted to defense had been one of Giorgia Meloni's campaign commitments, with the stated ambition of bringing the Italian defense effort to 2% by the end of the decade, against 1,51% in 2023. And in fact, speaking to the senate earlier this week, the now Prime Minister of the country has confirmed that she intends to strictly apply her campaign commitments in this area, and this, in a perfectly open and assumed way.

She was referring here to the increase in the budget of the armies granted by the previous coalition which was done in the most discreet way possible, so as to avoid criticism from the Italian Catholic Church, then very opposed to it. It is true that since then, the international situation has evolved significantly with the return of war in Europe, Sino-American tensions in the Pacific, and the multiplication of points of tension threatening many European and Italian interests.

The Italian armies are coming back from afar. Thus, in 2015, the third largest economy in continental Europe, did not devote even 1% of its GDP to its armies, with a defense budget of just over €13 billion.

However, unlike their French or British counterparts, the Italian armies then had a budget dedicated to acquisitions, the equivalent in France of Major Effects Programs (PEM), relatively large since then reaching €4,87 billion, where France, for example, had a budget of €31,4 billion, of which only €5 billion was devoted to the PEM, ie an industrial effort on the defense budget of 15,9% in France against 37,5% for Italy.

It is true that in this area, Rome can rely on two characteristics specific to the country. The first relates to the construction of the Italian budget, since the equipment expenditure of the Ministry of Defense is matched by the Ministry of Industry. Thus, of the €4,87 billion in equipment credits for the armies in 2015, only €2,37 billion was paid by the Ministry of Defence, the balance, i.e. €2,5 billion, having been financed by the Ministry of Industry, to support Italian defense industrial activity.

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If this first point is a definite advantage both for the armed forces and for the Italian defense industry, the second represents, on the other hand, a very severe handicap, today and in the future. Indeed, like all professionalized Western armies, the Italian armies are struggling to recruit.

With just over 160.000 active soldiers, the country remains proportionally close to the 207.000 French soldiers vis-à-vis its population of 60 million. On the other hand, a significant proportion of these soldiers refuse restrictive positions, for example boarding frigates, and force projection.

In fact, speaking to the Italian parliamentarians, the Chief of Staff of the Marina Militare, Admiral Enrico Credendino, confirmed that he was today unable to provide a full crew to the whole of its frigates, specifying by way of comparison that the French Navy had two rotating crews per ship, giving them much greater availability at sea. the French Navy, and not the entire fleet.

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