Arms sales : European projects vs Germany First

Following the rejection of the Alstom-Siemens merger a few weeks ago, France and Germany announced a common plan for the revision of EU’s competition rules in order to facilitate the creation of European champions capable of competing with the US and Chinese multinationals. This plan could be part of a broader industrial package that France and Germany want to draft by the end of March.

But regarding arms exports, despite their common military projects (such as the Future Combat Air System – FCAS), and their recent Treaty of Franco-German Co-operation and Integration (called “Aachen Treaty”) France and Germany visions are opposed, and divide the two European leaders.

And other European countries are impacted by the German position.

Impacts of the Germany’s ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia

Germany in November said it would reject future export licenses to Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It has not formally banned previously approved deals, which would entitle companies to compensation, but has urged industry to refrain from such shipments for now for example.

Reuters quoted Airbus Defence and Space chief Dirk Hoke saying that uncertainty about the issue had undermined Germany’s credibility, and could threaten future Franco-German defence projects, including a planned Eurodrone that was heading for an initial contract by the end of the year.

It recalled that Germany accounts for just under 2 % of total Saudi arms imports, a small percentage internationally compared with the United States and Britain, but it makes components for other countries’ export contracts. That includes a proposed 10-billion-pound ($12.82 billion) agreement by Riyadh to buy 48 new Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets from Britain.

The deal, in the making for nearly four years, was finalised late last year, but has been held up for months due to the German position, triggering “massive, emotional reactions” from Britain and BAE Systems, Hoke said.

British pressure 

In February 2019, in a letter sent to the German foreign minister Heiko Maa, Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign secretary, said British Defence firms would not be able to fulfill several contracts with Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), including the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Tornado fighter jet.

« It is imperative that you immediately remove major European defence projects such as the Eurofighter and the Tornado from the arms embargo » British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Otherwise, Berlin risked « a loss of confidence in the credibility of Germany as a partner » he added.

Franco-German agreement

Reuters underlines that Berlin’s failure to abide by these agreements and its lack of coordination with France on the Saudi case have convinced Paris that there is a need for a binding agreement before moving ahead on joint weapons programs with Germany.

That’s why Paris and Berlin have drafted a bilateral paper spelling out that the two countries will only block each other’s exports when « direct interests or national security are compromised ». An agreement needs to be found on this annex and it is not clear if it will need the approval of the German Bundestag.

Germany stick to its guns…for a month 

In February, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a speech at the Munich Security Conference, signalled a more relaxed stance.

« We have, because of our history, very good reasons to have very strict arms export guidelines (…) But without a common culture of defence exports in Europe, the development of joint weapons systems will be endangered » German Chancellor Angela Merkel

A few days later, in March 6th, Germany decided to extend a temporary, disputed ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia, but only until the end of the month.

We in the government have decided to extend the export ban until the end of March, and we have done this with an eye on developments in Yemen. (…) Not only will there not be any permits issued until the end of this month, but products with permits already granted will also not be delivered” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

Germany’s credibility and autonomy are at stake, according to Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, former adviser to the German president and director of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. « The long-term consequence of the current export policy could be that there will no longer be a defence industry in Germany » he warned.

To be continued…

© Reuters

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