The future president of the Republic will have to use his influence to unblock important military cooperation projects he shares with Germany

The armament programmes awaiting Macron or Le Pen in the Elysée palace

PHOTO/AFP/JOEL SAGET & ERIC FEFERBERG - When Emmanuel Macron or Marie Le Pen sits down at the table of his official office as President of the Republic on 24 April, they will have to decide where they stand on the major military cooperation projects that France shares with Germany.

France's top political, military and industrial authorities are on alert following the announcement made on 27 February in the Bundestag by the new German chancellor Olaf Scholz. Angela Merkel's replacement has pledged to increase the defence budget to 2% of GDP in order to boost its armed forces.

With the initial surprise and the general elections of 10 April behind it, Paris is preparing to reactivate the main arms programmes it is developing jointly with Berlin. Aware of its financial constraints, the French government has kept them on hold pending the outcome of the elections that conclude on 24 April.

Whether Emmanuel Macron wins the second round and returns to the Elysée Palace, or Marie Le Pen wins and becomes the first woman president of the Republic, either of the two will have to decide what to do with the major military cooperation projects that France shares with Germany and which remain stalled

PHOTO/Pascal Segrette - El contrato industrial del programa para desarrollar el avión de combate europeo de los años 2040 (FCAS) y sus pilares tecnológicos está bloqueado por falta de entendimiento entre Dassault, Airbus Alemania e Indra

The defence relationship between Berlin and Paris is crucial for both countries and has been strong for more than six decades, but with ups and downs. It takes the form of the Franco-German Defence and Security Council, which brings together every six months the French president and the German chancellor, their defence and foreign ministers, as well as the chiefs of staff of the defence, land, naval and air forces.

The Council is of great importance when it comes to giving the go-ahead for new arms programmes. The last major agreement between the two countries to develop cooperative weapons systems dates back to 13 July 2017. It was at the Elysée Palace in Paris, at the summit presided over by the then newly appointed French President Emmanuel Macron and Germany's long-serving Chancellor Angela Merkel.

PHOTO/Bundeswehr - Alemania mantiene en servicio una flota de unos 50 helicópteros Tigre con sistema de visión sobre el mástil del rotor principal. Pero no asume todavía su modernización al estándar Mk III que afrontan Francia y España, aunque es probable que se adhiera en breve
Four with problems and one on track

More than five years ago in the Seine capital, the foundations were laid for the new framework for cooperation in arms systems that is now in place. Both nations have a military industrial fabric of similar proportions, have the largest and most important defence companies in the European Union and, as a result, share the political and industrial leadership of the initiatives they undertake, even if they allow third countries to participate.

However, the German and French Defence ministries and industries defend their respective legitimate sovereignty, technological and business interests, which means that some projects are more successful than others, even though they are joint. Of the five major initiatives underway, only one (Eurodron) is still on track, albeit several years behind schedule. The remaining four are either mortally wounded (MAWS), blocked (FCAS and Tiger Mk III) or dormant (MGCS).

PHOTO/AP - Los grandes programas de armamento entre Alemania y Francia no atraviesan por su mejor momento. Emmanuel Macron ha dejado para después del 24 de abril su reactivación, que él o Marie Le Pen deben acordar con el canciller Olaf Scholz

They are awaiting a new impetus from the imminent French president and whoever he appoints as his Defence Minister. In Macron's case, since June 2017 the head has been Florence Parly, a graduate of the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris. Chancellor Scholz's defence portfolio is held by Christine Lambrecht, a lawyer. During Angela Merkel's last term in office, Ursula von der Leyen (2013-2019) - now President of the European Commission - was replaced by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (2019-2021).

The most prominent of the quintet of initiatives is the Next Generation Weapons System (NGWS), which has several technological pillars associated with it, including the Future European Combat Aircraft (FCAS), in which Spain participates. In August, the three nations signed the inter-ministerial agreement to undertake phases 1B and 2 of the project, which is due to conclude in 2027 with the flight of the demonstrator aircraft. But the industrial pact has been stalled for nine months.

A serious dispute persists between the company leading the programme, France's Dassault Aviation, and the company representing German interests, Airbus Defence & Space GmbH, and Spain's Indra. Essentially, the cause delaying the signing of the contract is whether or not the companies involved can share the flight control system and stealth technologies, the responsibility of Dassault, which refuses to do so. The arrival of the new president of the Republic could bring the project out of its current stalemate.

PHOTO/Yannick Smaldore - La Bundeswehr ha solventado sus necesidades urgentes y se ha decidido por el P-8A Poseidón para sustituir a sus P-3C Orión de patrulla marítima y guerra antisubmarina. El programa MAWS o MPA está en la cuerda floja
Battle tanks, helicopters, drones and more aircraft

The Main Ground Combat System, or MGCS, is led on the political side by Germany and on the industrial side by military vehicle manufacturer Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann. In collaboration with the French companies Nexter and Thales and the German company Rheinmetall, it aims to develop a new battle tank to replace both the German Leopard 2 and the French Leclerc by the mid-2030s. Both were conceived in the 1970s and developed in the 1980s.

In reality, the MGCS is intended to define a whole family of manned and unmanned heavy and light combat vehicles. The star of the project will be a tank armed with a 120-millimetre or larger calibre rapid-fire gun, capable of firing lethal projectiles with new guidance systems, incorporating laser-energy weapons and with high survivability in high-intensity scenarios. 

PHOTO/Reuters - Ministra de Defensa de Francia desde 2017, Florence Parly (en primer término), solventó muchos flecos políticos de cooperación militar con su homóloga alemana Úrsula von der Leyen, hoy presidenta de la Comisión Europea

The third programme is the maritime patrol aircraft (MAWS), where France is "disappointed", says Joël Barre, the French director general for armaments. Having defined the architecture and options to replace the French Navy's Atlantique 2 and the German P-3C Orion in 2035, Berlin has decided to purchase the American P-8A Poseidon from Boeing. In other words, it has jeopardised the continuity of MAWS, a solution based on Airbus aircraft models packed with European technology from Thales, Hensoldt and Diehl. The new French president and Chancellor Scholz have the final say in relaunching MAWS.

The Tiger Mk III combat helicopter is also in the balance. Despite being the next generation of a Franco-German Airbus project dating back to the mid-1980s, Berlin has decided not to embark on it. Instead, France with 67 aircraft and Spain with 18 have agreed to develop new technologies for the new Tiger, which will extend its operational life until at least 2045. The conversion will be carried out at the Airbus Helicopters España factory in Albacete. Germany's lack of participation impoverishes the final outcome, although Berlin has given hope that it will enter the project this year.

PHOTO/Sebastián Sprenger - El Eurodron es el único de los cinco grandes programas que ya ha salido del atolladero. Se encuentra bajo el liderazgo de Alemania y en su desarrollo y también participan Francia, Italia y España y sus respectivas industrias

The one that after progressing at a slow pace has gained cruising speed since January is the Eurodron. Its origins predate 2017, it involves Germany, France, Italy and Spain and consists of developing a remotely piloted aerial system for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition missions. It is managed by the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAr) and industrial responsibility lies with Airbus Defence & Space GmbH of Germany.

The competition to equip the aircraft with a pair of turboprop engines has pitted the French company Safran against the Italian company Avio, which has emerged as the winner. Except for the Eurodron programme, which is already walking on its own, Macron or Le Pen will have to try to get the stalled initiatives off the ground as soon as they sit in the presidential office chair.

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