Germany has voted to pay €77 million for the first prototypes of a "new generation fighter" for European armed forces. The country's defense minister has called it a concrete step towards European security.
Bundestag lawmakers approved on Wednesday the initial funds for a transnational project with France to create a new fighter jet and develop a program aimed at bringing together European military forces.
Representatives in German parliament's lower chamber signed-off on loans worth €77 million ($83 million) to build the first sets of the "new generation fighter." France is expected to contribute the same amount.
The research initiative forms an important part of Germany's joint Future Combat Air System (FCAS) with Spain and is part of a wider plan to draw back on the European Union's long dependency on US aircraft, drones and satellites.
The FCAS project is a "symbol of the capacity of Europeans to work together on a single defense project," Jean-Pierre Maulny, vice-director of the Institute of Strategic and International Relations, said in June.
The project, which hopes to construct the prototypes for European armed forces by 2026 and finish its development phase by 2030, is likely to be operational closer to 2040.
Wednesday's agreement paves the way for contracts to be signed with industrial giants, including Airbus, Dassault and Thales.
Read more: How does Germany contribute to NATO?
Franco-German tensions ease
In addition to giving the project the green light, German lawmakers also tied conditions to the plan, including a request for a German-led tank development initiative to go alongside the FCAS project.
The vote follows months of negotiations among German and French manufacturers over the project.
In December, French and German engine manufacturers finally agreed on how to divide the project.
The majority of German lawmakers voted in favor of providing funds for the fighter jet, despite apprehensions that French manufacturers may receive a bigger share of the project.
"We are going to do it because we don't want to worsen Franco-German relations, especially just before Emmanuel Macron comes to the Munich Security Conference," Reinhard Brandl, the parliamentary representative for the project, told the AFP news agency, referring to the French president.
Other attendees at the annual Munich Security Conference include Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Competition with Britain
Following the Bundestag vote, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer tweeted that concrete action on European security and defense policy is necessary. She referred to Wednesday's vote as an important step for the future of the EU.
In 2018, Britain announced a rival project known as the Tempest. Both Italy and Sweden supported the initiative, prompting Macron to urge last week that the EU must "develop a greater capacity for action" in a time of worldwide instability.
German Greens politician Tobias Lindner criticized Wednesday's decision, saying fundamental implementation issues remain unaddressed including the subject of intellectual property rights and Spain's future role in the project. He said such potential obstacles put into question whether the aircraft can be operated within Germany.
mvb/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)