Plan Stirs Controversy Germany to Relax Rules on Arms Exports

The German government is planning to relax its tight restrictions on arms exports, according to plans drafted by the Economics Ministry, SPIEGEL has learned. The aim is to make it easier for companies to compete with European rivals. But amid a major debate about the country's role in the global weapons trade, the decision will likely garner heavy criticism.
A Leopard 2 tank made by German firm Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW).

A Leopard 2 tank made by German firm Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW).

Foto: DPA/ Krauss-Maffei Wegmann

The German government plans to simplify approval procedures for the export of weapons and defense equipment, according to plans drafted by the Economics Ministry, SPIEGEL has learned.

The aim is to "lift special rules that put German exporters at a disadvantage against their European competitors," according to the ministry plans. The new rules will focus on strictly regulating arms sales to countries outside the EU while approval procedues for exports within the EU are to be relaxed.

The changes will put German export law in line with less restrictive EU rules and will make it easier for German firms to export defense goods around the world.

The Economics Ministry, headed by Philipp Rösler, the head of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), has invited German export industry representatives to the ministry for talks on the matter on Wednesday.

'Doing Deals With Death'

The move is controversial. "German governments used to stress that the stricter German rules would remain in force despite the harmonization in Europe," said Katja Keul, a member of the opposition Green Party who also sits on parliament's defense committee. "That appears no longer to be the case."

Green Party co-chair Claudia Roth accused Rösler of "doing deals with death." "Rösler is turning himself into the eager helper of the arms lobby. We must strongly resist such repulsive policy," she said.

Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union party, also criticized the plan. "Weapons aren't a product like any other. Our defense export policy should remain restrictive for good reasons," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Sunday.

A spokeswoman for Rösler denied the report, saying: "That statement is wrong." Arms export rules would remain unaffected by planned changes in export rules, she said. However, the draft amendments to the export law make no mention of weapons exports being exempt from the changes.

In recent months, the government in Berlin has come under strong criticism for approving the sale of Leopard II tanks to Saudi Arabia,  although the deal hasn't been finalized yet.

There has also been controversy surrounding rumors of a sale of tanks to Indonesia,  announced by an Indonesian government official during a recent visit by Merkel to Indonesia, although Berlin denied that any arms deals had been discussed during the visit.

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