Angela Merkel was in a resolute mood. German defense contractors liked to talk about "patriotism," the chancellor declared irritably when Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung and top military officials came to her complaining about delays in the supply of combat jets, helicopters and other equipment. "So we can't have the army spending years waiting for its equipment."
"It's time more pressure was put on industry," she declared, in an unmistakable instruction to Jung to get tough with defense suppliers.
The A400M during a presentation in Seville in 2008.
But Angela Merkel undermined her own people. She and Sarkozy shelved the cancellation threat in June before the company had even acceded to demands from European ministers that it provide "transparency" on technical problems, costs and on the reorganization of its management.
So the ministers had no option but to postpone the deadline for negotiations until the end of the year. No defense official in Berlin or Paris still believes that the countries will end up cancelling the contract and forcing EADS to pay back 6 billion.
The monopolist giant now has a firm grip on its customers. "We need a transport aircraft," Merkel said in Paris. The Transall aircraft that are due to be replaced by the A400M are 40 years old and rickety. The German army has ordered 60 of the new aircraft for more than 8 billion including equipment.
History of Shortcomings
When it comes to EADS, the German army always fights a losing battle. No supplier is as frowned on among German military top brass as EADS. Many of the products the company offers arrive later, perform less well and turn out more expensive than expected. Be it "Eurofighter" jets, combat helicopters, transport helicopters, electronic equipment for frigates or infantry equipment -- EADS almost always gets a chunk of government defense contracts, but it's rare that its products work the way they should.
The chairman of parliament's budget committee, Otto Fricke of the opposition pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), wants parliament to be involved in any further decisions regarding the A400M. "We don't want to be degraded to a rubber-stamping club like with previous defense contracts," he said. EADS, he warned Jung, "mustn't have carte blanche."
That realization comes pretty late given that when the FDP was still in government, it also tended to approve questionable projects. Loyalty to the coalition took precedence over business sense, for example in the case of the controversial "Eurofighter" jet. In the 1980s, Franz Josef Strauss, then leader of the Bavarian conservative Christian Social Union party, and Defense Minister Manfred Wörner both promoted the project. The plan was to order at least 200 "Jäger 90" jets, and they were to be ready for use from 1997. One fighter was to cost around 83 million deutsche marks including spare parts.