Defense Minister de Maiziere enters latest drone grilling | News | DW | 10.06.2013
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Defense Minister de Maiziere enters latest drone grilling

Thomas de Maiziere has gone before the Bundestag's special defense committee again, facing further questions about a scrapped Bundeswehr surveillance drone project. The opposition wants the defense minister to resign.

German opposition leaders renewed their calls for Christian Democrat high-flyer Thomas de Maiziere to resign on Monday, as the defense minister faced further parliamentary questions on the Euro Hawk drone project that was scrapped in May.

"The minister should pull his own rip chord," Social Democrat defense expert Rainer Arnold told Monday's 'Rheinische Post' newspaper, in a play on the phrase initially used to explain the decision to abandon the plans. "He should do the Bundeswehr a favor and retire."

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Defence Minister under scrutiny

Coalition allies again offered their support to the beleaguered minister, who has become embroiled in a debate over precisely when he and his ministry learned that the plans for unmanned, unarmed surveillance drones modeled on an existing US plane were doomed. The parliamentary defense expert for the Free Democrat junior coalition partners, Elke Hoff, called the opposition's criticisms "completely overblown" in a radio interview.

A timeline of failure

The cancellation of the Euro Hawk project, which had already cost some 500 million euros ($660 million), was made public on May 15.

In de Maiziere's first parliamentary grilling last Wednesday, he said that he first knew the plans would fall on May 13.

This prompted considerable skepticism in parliament and the press, owing to prominent news reports on the inflated costs needed to gain flight clearance at high altitude in EU airspace much earlier in the year.

De Maiziere has since sought to clarify his stance, saying May 13 was the day on which he was sufficiently certain of the stoppage to broach the topic in parliament, but that he had become aware of the issue much earlier.

"The daily business of any ministry most certainly does not take place on the [parliamentary] floor," he told 'Focus' magazine in comments released over the weekend.

This revised or perhaps refined position has not pacified the opposition.

"If a minister learns of a rumor that hundreds of millions of euros are being poured into the sand, and then goes back to his office to wait for an official bill, he has not understood what his job is," Green party defense representative Omid Nouripour told the 'Rheinische Post.'

Campaign pressure?

The development project itself, adapting and improving a high-altitude US RQ-4B Global Hawk surveillance drone made by Northrop Grumman, had been running largely according to plan and according to budget. However, the prospect of as much as 500 million euros in further costs to secure flight clearance inside EU airspace prompted authorities to abandon the plans.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble attributed the heavy pressure de Maiziere was facing to Germany's upcoming federal elections in September.

"It's obvious that this is an attempt, by virtue of splitting hairs in a rather paltry manner, to conduct an election campaign," Schäuble said on public television ahead of de Maiziere's appearance.

msh/ipj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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