Germany will grant France extensive freedom in joint arms projects to sell jointly-developed weapons systems to third countries: This is the result of a secret agreement reached by the governments in Berlin and Paris on 14 January. "The parties will not oppose any transfer or export to third countries," according to the document available to Spiegel.
This is about joint projects such as the planned main battle tank or the new fighter aircraft that France and Germany want to develop together. For months, Paris and Berlin had been arguing whether Berlin could later veto French deals with difficult partners like Saudi Arabia.
There is no talk of a veto in the secret pact. Only if direct interests or national security are endangered, one of the partners can bring concerns, it is said. The two-page document, written in English, is entitled "Franco-German Industrial Co-operation in Defense - Common Understanding and Principles of Sales."
The agreement complements the new Franco-German treaty signed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in Aachen at the end of January. In the treaty, arms exports are mentioned only in a general statement that states they want to establish common rules for the sale of armaments co-operations.
In the supplementary paper, the partners agree to inform each other "early on" when arms exports outside NATO are planned. If it comes to a dispute, Berlin and Paris want to open within two months "high-level talks for an exchange of views and the search for alternatives begin," the text of the agreement, in which a "permanent body" for advising fundamental export issues is agreed.
Common European line on the theme of arms exports?
The Federal Government did not want to comment on the confidential document. Foreign Minister Michael Roth told the Spiegel: "An even closer Franco-German cooperation offers the opportunity to make Europe more sovereign, but we too will have to compromise on this." A "United Europe" cannot mean that “every national decision is automatically implemented one to one."
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen also expressed her openness to compromise with France. She demanded in an interview that Europe should "develop common ethical standards and principles" for armaments exports. But you have to approach each other. "The insistence on maximum positions does not create a strong community," says von der Leyen.
The eternal question: Can you ship weapons to Saudi Arabia?
Germany and France are very far apart in terms of arms exports. While Paris regards the sale of weapons throughout the world as an economic factor and provides massive political support, Berlin is pursuing a more restrictive policy. Every single delivery outside NATO must be approved by the Federal Security Council.
Currently, arms shipments to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are particularly controversial. While Germany blocked the delivery of shipments already approved following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Paris sees no reason not to continue supplying weapons to the Saudis. France forbade any criticism of this approach.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The new “secret” arms export rules outlined above are very similar to those that currently govern the export of French-German weapons, enshrined by the so-called Debré-Schmidt agreements.
Signed in 1971 by the two countries’ then defense ministers, Michel Debré and Helmut Schmidt, and which stipulates that each country will allow the other to export weapons developed in common.
On the matter of joint arms exports, the Treaty of Aachen simply states in its article 4 that “Both States will develop a common approach to arms exports with regard to joint projects,” and suggests that the Franco-German Defense and Security Council is “the political body to steer these reciprocal commitments.”
Consequently, the issue is not what new rules can be agreed for the future, but how consistent successive German governments will be in applying the Debré-Schmidt agreements, which are still valid and applicable, both in letter and in spirit.)