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  • 18 oktober 2019

Components for War

Martin Broek

While war is knocking at European doors Brussels is not even able to decide on a common arms embargo on Turkey. Once upon a time, the European Union was considered an example that another security policy was possible. A security that was based on the power of negotiation instead of military force. With two EU initiatives to support the defence industry, nowadays Europe is quickly loosing its white dove tails. The European Defence Fund and the Aachen Treaty reflect a different atmosphere in Brussels.

The outgoing Polish member of the European Commission, Elzbieta Bienkowska, highlighted last week that the € 13 billion which has been allocated to the European Defence Fund is one of the Commission's achievements of the past five years. The sum is not a lot on the scale of the whole European defence-industry, she said, but it is more than a symbolic amount, because for the first time in history EU Member States have agreed to cooperate in the area of defence.

In the summer of 2019 Philippe Leymarie wrote on European defence policies in the French intellectual monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, and wondered if the European Defence Fund will be restricted to European firms. “Or will it be wide open, as advocated by Dutch Liberals, German Social Democrats, the Polish government and US officials, who have already threatened the EU with retaliatory measures if US companies are excluded.” For a fund presented as necessary to strenghten the European arms industry, funding US industry would be remarkable at least. With or without the US, Europe is militarising its policies.

In the meantime, Paris and Berlin undertook great effort to establish an economic, foreign affairs and defence (industrial) axis with the Aachen Treaty.* An element of this Treaty is to fix the conflicting arms export policies between both nations. There have been earlier efforts to fix this for specific cases, but the Aachen Treaty seems to be general and more advanced. The French paper La Tribune observed that “the hitherto extremely tense relations between Germany and France on the defence exports are easing. This is reflected in Berlin's decision not to hinder the sale to the United Arab Emirates of two Naval Group Gowind corvettes powered by German MTU engines.

In September the Times reported: “President Macron and Angela Merkel have signed a secret deal in an attempt to ease Franco-German friction over arms exports, notably to Saudi Arabia. The agreement is designed to stop Berlin from blocking the sale of French weapons that contain German parts to countries with questionable human rights records.” Herewith the UK paper refers to an annex to the Treaty (see for draft).

Arms trade is a major concern following common production, because the French have a very loose arms export policy in general, while Germany has a stricter policy. Germany has been restrictive for arms exports to Ankara since 2016, especially after the Turkish military offensive against the northern Syrian region of Afrin. While France has been exporting as usual. Between 2014 and 2018 Turkey was ranked as the world's 13th biggest arms importer. Thanks to the Aachen Treaty, Germany will no longer block common arms deals, as Die Zeit reports, and visa versa France will not stop German exports (although that seems to be unimaginable today). Currently it is understood that the a party which is involved with less than 20 percent of the contract value gives away its position to decide on the exports of the weapons. The juridical formulations are not finalised and negotiations with Paris were “largely completed, but we can not anticipate the outcome of the ongoing final talks,” said the German Federal Ministry of Economics in Die Zeit.

At present, Northern Syria is bombed by Turkish F-16 planes. Those fighters are developed by Lockheed Martin. But when Lockheed sold the planes to its customers, many of them, including EU member states, negotiated offsets as part of the acquisition deal and so for example “from Israel, to Indonesia, from Turkey to Taiwan F-16's with Dutch components are operated,” wrote Stop Wapenhandel already in 2003. Recently the Dutch government was asked about deliverances of military components (responsible for 87 percent of the total Dutch military export valued € 750 million in 2018). The Minister of Foreign Trade answered that in the case of exports to allies, these allies are regarded as the end-user if the final end-user is not clear. Although it was agreed between the US and Netherlands that re-transfers of “defence articles and services, including technical information, originating in the territory of the other Participant, will be made only with the prior written consent of the originating Participant's government.” But sometimes it easier to hide behind the back of another country (at least in public) instead of working on a controllable mechanism. While Germany and France at least organise the decision making on common projects, trans-Atlantic cooperation on arms seems to be just a question of alliance.

This sidestep into the trans-Atlantic defence industrial cooperation raises several questions connected to the contents of the Aachen Treaty. First: are there, and if so, what, agreements made between Europeans and the US to control re-transfers? What will be the position of third parties in the German-French programs? Spain for example is a major part of the Airbus concern and participating in the A400M military transport plane production of which 10 were exported to Turkey. It also raises the question if and how the German and French public will be informed on the value and destination of components in common produced armaments. Will there be reporting to the other COARM members?

Tomorow (blog is van 15 oktober, red.) Merkel and Macron will dine at Airbus in Toulouse with the “European Round Table,” a lobby association that includes the leaders of large European defence industries. They will talk about “a more ambitious European industrial and innovation policy.” When Europe is embarking on a defence industrial policy it is better to keep a close watch on those dining tables.

Martin Broek