German lawmakers signed off Wednesday on the first funds for a cross-border project with France to develop a new fighter jet and reinvigorate an ambitious program aimed at bringing together Europe’s disparate military forces.
The development of the stealth jet is a crucial part of the nations’ joint Future Combat Air System (FCAS) with Spain, which will also include drones, satellites and other aircraft to help reduce the EU’s long reliance on US planes and equipment.
The vote comes after months of wrangling between French and German manufacturers over the project, easing Franco-German tensions before President Emmanuel Macron attends this weekend’s Munich Security Conference.
German MPs approved loans of 77 million euros ($83 million) to launch a research project which aims to build the first prototypes of a “new generation fighter” for European armed forces by 2026.
Despite concerns that French manufacturers may be getting a larger share of the project than their German counterparts, MPs in Berlin voted overwhelmingly in favor of freeing up funds for the jet, which would ultimately be deployed closer to 2040.
“We are going to do it because we don’t want to worsen Franco-German relations, especially just before Emmanuel Macron comes to the Munich Security Conference,” the parliamentary rapporteur for the project Reinhard Brandl told AFP.
The project had already cleared one key hurdle in December when an agreement was reached between French and German engine manufacturers over how to divide the project.
Wednesday’s vote clears the way for contracts to be signed with major industrial companies such as Dassault, Airbus and Thales, and is a timely reboot for the previously hamstrung program.
Yet MPs attached certain conditions to their approval, including a demand for a similar, German-led tank development program to progress alongside the FCAS project.
The FCAS initiative is a “symbol of the capacity of Europeans to work together on a single defence project,” said Jean-Pierre Maulny, vice-director of the Institute of Strategic and International Relations (IRIS) last June.
In reality, Britain announced a rival project known as Tempest in 2018, which has been backed by Italy and Sweden.
Such divisions prompted Macron to demand last week that Europeans “develop a greater capacity for action” in the face of global instability.