Europe’s neighbors are looking to jointly develop weapons systems for the future. In both countries, however, resistance is strong, both politically and industrially.
(DW) It couldn’t be more symbolic: in order to overcome the Franco-German crisis over an arms cooperation project, French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu invited his German counterpart, Boris Pistorius, to Evreux. In this town, just over 90 kilometers northwest of Paris, cooperation between the two countries works the way politicians have been preaching for decades.
It is in Normandy that the binational air transport squadron operates. A milestone for the close military cooperation agreed in the 1963 Elysée Treaty. While the Franco-German Brigade separates almost all units by nationality, mixed crews operate in the transports in Evreux, and ground personnel also come from both countries.
Other projects have already failed
On the other hand, heavy clouds surround arms cooperation between France and Germany. Industrial rivalries and political interests are weighing heavily on the design of the Franco-German MGCS tank, which is highly regarded by French President Emmanuel Macron. Then newly elected to office, in July 2017, he and the then German Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, agreed on a list of joint arms projects costing more than 100 billion euros.
The state-of-the-art European air combat system Future Combat Air System (FCAS) was on this project, as well as a maritime reconnaissance aircraft, a drone capable of carrying armaments and a new battle tank: the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) was to replace the French Leclerc and the German Leopard 2 from 2035.
Countries vie for leadership
The costs of developing the MGCS are to be shared between Paris and Berlin, which would be in charge of the project. France, for its part, would take the lead on the FCAS. Initially, the MGCS was to be developed by KNDS, a holding company formed by Germany’s KMW and French tank manufacturer Nexter, which is associated with the government.
Since Rheinmetall came on board in 2019, however, the French have complained about German dominance. Now the project could be opened up to other countries. Italy and the Netherlands would be interested in being observers, according to Lecornu.
Jacob Ross, from the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP), sees this as an “important move”. The change in the timetable – the GATS is not due to go into operation until after 2040 – also follows this pattern. “But this is not a breakthrough for the project,” says Ross. Especially since Germany and France have not reached an agreement on secondary issues in Evreux either.
Neighbors with different plans.
What causes the most controversy between the Germans and the French is the main armament of the MGCS: while Rheinmetall prefers a 130 millimeter cannon, Nexter insists on 140 millimeters. The dispute over millimeters is important in military terms, as the caliber determines the capabilities of the weapon, and whoever prevails on this issue will probably set the standard for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for decades to come. In mid-2023, an informal meeting between German Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Macron did not result in any definition.
In recent weeks, the military teams in Berlin and Paris have presented their demands in a joint list of demands. Pistorius and Lecornu approved the list in Evreux. It will be decided by December which parts of the tank system each country will coordinate.