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Germany

Greens Threaten to Ground Airbus Project

Germany’s Green Party is casting new doubts on the country's commitment to purchase the military transport plane Airbus A400. That may jeopardise the entire project, a lynchpin of European defence strategy.

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Flying on empty

Green opposition could scupper an €18 billion ($15.7 million) multinational order of the European military transport plane A400 because the German contribution is key to the deal going through.

A "no" vote by the Greens in the German parliament on Wednesday would block approval of the Airbus deal because Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats would likely fail to win a majority.

The Greens have threatened to vote against it because they say the defence ministry has broken budget rules to purchase the plane.

"The planned approach by the Defence Ministry would injure the constitutionally guaranteed budgetary rights of parliament," said Oswald Metzger, the Greens budget expert.

Eight EU countries signed the Airbus deal last December. But complex German budget procedures have repeatedly cast doubt on it.

German Defence Minister Blamed

Germany's conservative opposition has repeatedly criticised Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping over his handling of the project, even though it is in favour of buying the planes in principle.

Germany has ordered 73 planes but its 2002 budget contains funding for only 40 of them, worth 5.1 billion euro.

Scharping had hoped to postpone funding for the remaining 33 planes until next year's budget, which will only be hammered out after a general election in September.

But the conservatives said such a move breached budget rules.

And the Greens fear that the current financing method exposes the government to renewed court action by the conservatives.

While Germany looks like it is chasing its tail over the Airbus project, the seven other partners have demanded a clear signal from Berlin.

Otherwise, with Germany's commitment in doubt, they would not feel bound to honour their commitments to buy the plane either.

That would be disastrous for the robust EU defence policy European leaders have envisaged, and for Germany’s credibility at a time when the country has made noises that it wants to shoulder more responsibility in foreign affairs.