Military industrial axis of the European Union
On January 22, 2019 Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron signed the Treaty of Aachen (Aachener Vertrag/Traité d’Aix-la-Chapelle). Article 4 deals with internal and external security and defence cooperation, including military industrial issues. Berlin and Paris will intensify common defence programs to promote and consolidate the European defence technological and industrial base. As close as possible on the basis of mutual trust. Both countries will develop a common approach to arms exports in joint projects and establish the Franco-German Defence and Security Council as the political governing body.
It is not clear which defence programs are meant in the text. But annalists mention a next generation military fighter plane, drones and tanks. The fighter aircraft and the so-called European main battle tank together “form the backbone of Franco-German defence ambitions, with tens of billions of dollars at stake,” according to the US military publication Defense News. Spain recently joined the fighter program, but Airbus warned that the UK will be left out of the project if the UK leaves the single market and customs union of the European Union. On top of plane, tank and drone there are many more common projects, such as the A400M military transport plane, the Tiger attack helicopters, the NH90 transport helicopter and the European surveillance drone (Eurodrone MALE) with large equipment transfers from at least France to Germany and visa versa.
The French have no happy memories on expensive common European programs. A report by the National Audit (Cour des Comptes) recommended to keep projects limited to “two, or even three States sharing the same wish to invest sustainably.” The French Audit office also proposes to “launch [no] new defence equipment projects without first ensuring that the associated budget programming is realistic.” The multi billion European Defence Fund (EDF) may be used for streamlining common projects when it will get the proposed €13 billion, divided into €4.1 billion for collaborative defence research and €8.9 billion to co-financing member states’ prototype development.
The French national audit office recommend also to “promote Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) as the delegated project manager.” OCCAR is one of the benefissiaries of the European Defence Fund and already involved in the Tiger helicopter, the MALE drone and the A400M plane. In that case a fund filled by the remittances of national governments would be used to finance a German-Franco project that competes with industries of smaller nations. It is difficult to see this happen without opposition of other OCCAR participants.
The Guardian wrote on the Aachen treaty that it is a snub to other EU-members. Interest of the Franco-German defence industry is not the same as defence industry interests of Europe as a whole. The Dutch center right daily Telegraaf reported how the Dutch choice for Dutch/Swedish submarines is not only a financial and technological adventure, but may also sour the relations with Paris and Berlin. Dutch Damen shipyard has already problems with the Naval Group in Romania (see previous blogs) and is also competing with Italian Leonardo in Brazil. When the Aachen Treaty is a threat for the relations with Washington and the US defence industry, EU-members will try to frustrate its proceedings. The US was the second biggest destination for military sales of EU-member states after Saudi Arabia in the period 1998-2017. Creating a stronger European Union defence industrial base from a German French perspective gives the impression the big are trying to squeeze the small. The plans for the a next-generation fighter are an affront to Italy and will weaken the European Union, according to the head of an Italian defence industry association in Defense News. But even between Germany and France one may doubt how deep the agreement is.
“Rub away the rhetoric and you’re not left with much,” the Irish Times stated and continued: “The text includes pledges everyone knows will come to nothing – France promises to support Germany’s efforts to secure a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, for example. The mutual defence clause is a largely decorative flourish given that both countries are already bound by article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty.” Added to this there is also a common European arms export policy. It is not strictly implemented across the Union. But it exists and also here there nothing new, so far.
Arms may be developed to create a stronger European position vis-a-vis the US and China, but weapons will be exported to countries outside Europe to get more return on investments. The European Commission recently summarised the European arms export policy in answer on questions around sales to the Saudi’s: “the handling of authorisations for the export of military technology and equipment is primarily a task for the EU Member States. It is also their responsibility to assess the risks prior to authorising any arms transaction.” It is hard to overlook the difference between the French and German interpretation of the EU Common Position on arms export controls. The logic behind a remark on the Euroactiv website is obvious: “Not defining a common export rule would mean putting certain common industrial projects at risk,” and is food for friction. Recently the differences were most visible in the reactions on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Irish Times in reaction to Aachen Treaty stated: “If Paris and Berlin are serious about a common stance on arms exports, there’s a gaping chasm to bridge; France opted against following Germany’s lead in halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”
How big the gap is must be seen. The German Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Roth told German weekly Der Spiegel: “Franco-German cooperation offers the opportunity to make Europe more sovereign, but we too will have to compromise on this.” His colleague for Defence Ursula von der Leyen said: “The insistence on maximum positions does not create a strong community.” There is an ongoing struggle to relax arms export policies between the two remaining large EU members. It already surfaced in February around the potential French export of MBDA Meteor air-to-air missiles to the Saudi’s, estimated worth US$1 billion, with key components produced by the German industry. Berlin wants to prevent the export “as it is opposed to Saudi Arabia’s use of the Meteor-mounted Typhoons in the Yemen conflict.” The Meteor is the first serious test for the direction of “a common approach to arms exports.”