Dhe military awakening in Berlin has raised great hopes in Paris for joint armaments projects in the EU. But the government under President Emmanuel Macron is now suspicious of German rearmament, which is being financed with a debt fund (“special fund”) of over 100 billion euros.
The prevailing impression in Paris is that the federal government has given up the goal of Europeanizing the armaments sector – without openly informing its most important European partner about it.
The European Sky Shield project is seen in Paris as the latest sign of Berlin’s about-face. The German government has won over 13 European NATO partners, including Great Britain, and the accession candidate Finland for the initiative to strengthen air defense. A corresponding declaration of intent was signed on the fringes of the recent NATO defense ministers’ meeting.
The joint procurement and use of air defense systems from Israel (Arrow 3) and America (Patriot) is planned. For France, the decision is equivalent to a rejection of Europe as an armaments location. Because Berlin could also have considered the SAMP/T (in France: Mamba) air defense system developed by the armaments companies MBDA and Thales as part of Franco-Italian cooperation, as well as Aster missiles.
The European Sky Shield project was the last straw
France was even more outraged by Berlin’s actions than the competitive disadvantage. In the Aachen Treaty, Germany and France committed themselves at the beginning of 2019 to intensifying their “joint defense programs”. This is one of the reasons why France did not expect that it would be excluded by the federal government and that priority would be given to a merger with the EU partners in the north and east.
From the point of view of French diplomats, the European Sky Shield was the straw that broke the camel’s back in Paris. The result was the cancellation of the Franco-German Council of Ministers in Fontainebleau at short notice.
The air defense system is by no means the only armaments project on which there is a dispute between Berlin and Paris. During his crisis talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) this Wednesday in the Élysée Palace, President Macron wants to bring up the eight Franco-German cooperation projects, all of which have stalled.
They were signed on July 13, 2017 in the banquet hall of the Élysée Palace, a few hours before then-US President Donald Trump was received in the hall. At the time, the Franco-German understanding was based on Angela Merkel’s statement: “The times when we could completely rely on others are long gone.”
But since the inauguration of President Joe Biden, who according to Macron is “the most European American president for a long time”, this realization no longer applies in Berlin, according to the French impression. There is a lack of evidence from the federal government that the idea of European sovereignty and independent defense capacities guides the German armaments program.
European sovereignty? There is nothing in the armaments program about this
It was noted with some uncertainty that in the Chancellor’s speech on Europe there was no reference to the largest European armaments project, the FCAS. In fact, the negotiations on the German-French-Spanish FCAS combat aircraft system are stagnating. In military circles, failure is no longer ruled out.
The unwieldy abbreviation FCAS describes a flying composite system with combat aircraft, drones and weapons. It could form the basis for a European armaments sector far beyond the aviation sector. In Paris, attention was paid to how Inspector General Eberhard Zorn rejected future European projects when Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) presented the national security strategy in Berlin in September.
Zorn said at the DGAP panel discussion on the occasion of Lambrecht’s keynote speech: “No experiments with development solutions in the EU now.” The Inspector General explained how the 100 billion should be spent: “We want things that fly, that drive and that open are there on the market. No European development solution that doesn’t work afterwards. (. . .) There is everything we need on the market”.
In Paris, this was taken as an alarm signal. Because there is also no progress with other joint armaments projects, with the battle tank system or the reconnaissance aircraft. The Bundeswehr has already withdrawn from the joint maritime reconnaissance aircraft Maritim Airborne Warfare System and has ordered a Boeing P-8 Poseidon in the USA. The Bundeswehr is also not involved in the modernization of the Tiger attack helicopter. Planned joint artillery systems have been pushed back to 2045. President Macron is becoming increasingly aware of how little the Chancellor shares his plans for European sovereignty. Macron is not used to France’s defense role being challenged.
Scholz’ statements about the Bundeswehr as “Europe’s first army” and the “claim to leadership” in air defense shake the French self-image. Germany and France combine about 40 percent of the defense industry in Europe. Together they could change structures, but that requires a common political will.