France, Germany break impasse on arms exports

Toulouse (France) (AFP) –


France and Germany agreed Wednesday on an accord governing the export of jointly developed weapons and defence equipment, removing a key stumbling block to their development of next-generation tanks and fighter jets.

"We have finalised a major, legally binding deal on arms exports to fully complete these programmes," French President Emmanuel Macron said at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The two leaders met in the southwest French city of Toulouse, home of the pan-European aircraft and defence group Airbus, as well as a major factory owned by Dassault Aviation.

Both companies are working on the ambitious Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project, which will combine a new fighter plane with drones, satellites and other aircraft to help reduce the EU's long reliance on US planes and equipment.

But Paris and Berlin have not always seen eye-to-eye on weapons sales beyond the EU -- and both countries say such exports are crucial for making the new plane and tank projects viable.

France, for example, has maintained its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, while Germany has halted them over the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Currently, either country could halt the export of jointly made weapons in case of disagreement on the buyer, a complexity removed by the Franco-German deal signed Wednesday, French officials said.

"It marks the mutual confidence between France and Germany and constitutes the basis of success for common projects like the tank and the future aircraft," as well as scores of other joint projects, a French presidency official told AFP.

- 'Not condemned to powerlessness' -

Merkel and Macron met as part of their regular joint cabinet meetings, but the agenda was especially heavy given the turmoil surrounding Brexit and tensions over the future composition of the European Commission.

Macron's suffered a humiliating blow last week after his pick for a broad commission portfolio was rejected by European Parliament lawmakers.

But the French president said Wednesday that he and Merkel still had ambitious EU goals, and were determined to show that "Europe is a fantastic project that works, and is not condemned to political powerlessness, nor bureaucratic routine."

He called in particular on the new Commission to begin "all possible procedures" against internet giants that refuse to abide by new copyright rules requiring them to pay media outlets for displaying content in search results.

Google has already refused to play ball, saying it will not use the content in search results unless publishers make it available for free -- potentially depriving them of crucial revenues.

"Certain firms like Google want to get around this. We won't let them," Macron said.

The two leaders also gave their support for the new "Green Pact" sought by incoming Commission president Ursula von der Leyen -- in particular a minimum price for carbon emission rights across the EU.

They also agreed to back a so-called "carbon border tax" long sought by France, which would set higher tariffs on imports made through processes generating large amounts of greenhouse gases.