The German Bundestag debated the final inquiry report from a special parliamentary committee into the "Euro Hawk" affair Monday. The opposition criticized Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere for his handling of the failed drone development project.
This report is the result of an inquiry by the committee, which concluded its work at the end of June. The plenary debate included thousands of pages of documents and 18 witnesses, including de Maiziere.
The Social Democrat (SPD) chairman of the defense committee, Rainer Arnold, accused de Maiziere of lying to parliament and the public and called for his resignation. "The right time, during which you could have faced consequences with dignity, you have missed," he said adding, "We need a defense minister who has the confidence of the soldiers."
However, de Maiziere's fellow Christian Democrats (CDU) have continued to protect him ahead of the September 22 election.
"SPD, Greens and the Left party have frantically tried to scandalize the situation," said the CDU committee leader, Markus Grübel. He said part of the responsibility also lies with former defense chief and SPD member, Rudolf Scharping.
During the inquiry committee phase, opposition parties accused de Maiziere of delaying the aborted Euro Hawk drone project, thereby causing a price overrun of more than 600 million euros ($860 million).
The scandal which emerged in May exposed doubts about whether the drone, which reached prototype-testing stage, would get an airworthiness certificate in European airspace. De Maiziere instead blamed his subordinates.
De Maiziere speaks out
Ahead of the debate, de Maiziere told the country's armed forces' publication - Bundeswehr Aktuell - that his decision earlier this year to halt the so-called Euro Hawk surveillance drone project was "correct."
De Maiziere said the Bundeswehr was setting up a central authority for the licensing of military aircraft which would begin its work next year.
"I have also at the EU and NATO levels taken the initiative to ensure that joint international certification rules apply for civil and military-used aircraft," he said.
That topic has been tabled for the next meetings of the European Defense Agency and the European (EU) Council in December, de Maiziere said.
The European Defense Agency (EDA), based in Brussels, was set up by the European Union in 2004 to develop defense capacities for crisis management and enhance cooperation between EU nations when developing equipment.
The Euro Hawk was developed by the US aerospace group Northrop Grumman in conjunction with the European aerospace company EADS.
hc/slk (Reuters, AFP, dpa)