Berlin wants to open Franco-German arms projects for European partners

German Minister of Defence Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (R) at the start of NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 12 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

Germany’s defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Thursday (13 February) she is willing to open the current Franco-German arms projects to other European partners.

Kramp-Karrenbauer’s comments, made ahead of the annual Munich Security Conference this weekend, come barely a week after French President Emmanuel Macron made one more push for more European cooperation on defence matters.

In his remarks, Macron offered to open a “strategic dialogue” with willing European partners about the role of French nuclear deterrence policy in Europe’s security structure and proposed a joint European approach to nuclear arms control.

In an interview with Reuters published on Thursday, the German defence minister commented, when asked about Europe’s current NATO shield:

“We would be well advised to stick with the nuclear umbrella that has long provided us with security”.

“Some people in France seem to be thinking of a kind of European nuclear arms industry. I cannot imagine that with regard to Germany,” she added.

European military projects

A Franco-German decision to cooperate on joint military projects followed tough negotiations with the French government and within Germany’s struggling ‘Grand Coalition’. In July 2017, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Macron agreed on the development of the fighter system and a new battle tank.

Last year, Germany and France, joined by Spain, inked a framework agreement for the joint construction of Europe’s largest arms project to date, the so-called Future Air Combat System (FCAS). Madrid had asked to be treated as an equal partner in the project.

Dassault Aviation and Airbus are set to build the fighter jet, while France’s Safran and Germany’s MTU Aero Engines will jointly develop the new warplane’s engine, with the first flight of the prototype to take place in around 2026.

Unlike the Eurofighter, the new FCAS will also include a range of associated weapons, such as swarms of unmanned aerial carriers (drones) interconnected by a cloud, surveillance and command aircraft, cruise missiles, satellites and ground stations.

“Both projects are a sign of the particularly close cooperation between Paris and Berlin,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said, welcoming the Bundestag’s green light for the development of the joint aircraft system.

“We want to open these projects as far as possible in Europe. We also have close cooperation on submarines – in this case with Norway,” she added.

The German Bundestag’s budget committee approved on Wednesday (12 February) a budget of around €78 million for a concept study of the German-French Future Combat Air System (FCAS), with the same budget amount additionally provided by the French side.

The vote followed months of negotiations among German and French manufacturers over how to divide the burden.

The majority of German lawmakers voted in favour of providing funds for the next-generation fighter jet project, despite previous reservations due to concerns that French manufacturers might receive a bigger share of the project.

With Madrid joining the Franco-German project, a minimum of three partners was reached, meeting a condition set for receiving funding for research and development of joint European defence industrial projects under the European Defence Fund.

But so far, few other countries have expressed interest in collaboration.

France had previously explored working with Britain on the project, bringing together Europe’s two biggest military powers.

But having lost the possibility of full cooperation due to Brexit, Britain, meanwhile, launched its own new Tempest stealth fighter project last July, which Italy and the Netherlands have also joined, laying bare Europe’s internal divisions and deepening scepticism about the future of European defence cooperation.

According to Kramp-Karrenbauer, however, the long-term goal in any joint initiatives should be the consolidation of the European defence industry.

“But that requires that all states pursue this goal. In my opinion, that’s not the case everywhere at the moment,” she warned.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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