July 25, 2021

The fighter plane of the future enters the German political debate

It’s a green light, but not a blank check. On Wednesday 23 June, German MPs approved funding for the next stage in the development of the future air combat system (SCAF). But, three months before the legislative elections of September 26 and the announced departure of Angela Merkel, the climate in which the vote took place speaks volumes about the reservations aroused in Berlin by this major strategic project for European defense. .

Launched in 2017 by France and Germany, joined since by Spain, the SCAF must replace the Rafale and Eurofighter fighter jets by 2040. Before arriving there, an in-flight demonstrator must be produced. ‘by 2027. It is on the financing of this prototype that the budget committee of the Bundestag was invited to pronounce. The 1.3 billion euros that it released on Wednesday, however, only cover the research and development phase – known as “1B” – prior to the construction of the demonstrator. Originally, the government wanted the deputies to also commit to financing phase 2, that of the manufacture of the prototype, which would have corresponded to an envelope of approximately 4.5 billion euros.

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“Given the major political significance of the project, in particular for Franco-German cooperation, the Budget Committee has decided to give it its approval”, it said on Wednesday in a statement. At the end of their meeting, several members of the committee were, however, very clear. “We have voted the budget necessary for the research and development phase, but, for any other financial commitment, the defense ministry will have to ask for our approval again”, warned MP Dennis Rohde, spokesperson for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) at the budget committee.

Arm wrestling

Three months before the legislative elections and with the parliamentary session coming to an end, such a standoff is not surprising. Already in the campaign, deputies have an interest in showing that they are not being forced by the executive. This is particularly the case of the Social Democrats who, on military questions, have adopted increasingly intransigent positions during the legislature. By standing up to the Minister of Defense, the conservative Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU), the SPD can show its loyalty to the pacifist ideals dear to its voters, hoping that this return to doctrinal fundamentals will pay off at the polls.

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