Comment: It's too late for second thoughts on Eurofighter

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The Independent Online
Achtung! Spitfire! And in more ways than one. The RAF wants the Eurofighter because it is a kind of modern day Spitfire, and while its original military purpose, to shoot down the fighters protecting Russian nuclear bombers, has long since vanished, there is no doubt that this is a wonderful piece of technology that the RAF could justifiably feel proud of. Our lads are going to get 230 of the blighters, even under Labour, which, British Bulldog-like, is backing this questionable project as vigorously as the previous government.

The Germans like it ... Well actually they don't like it at all, really. They don't want it, they don't need it, and it threatens only to make a bad budgetary position look even worse. But in the spirit of European co-operation, they are going to back it nevertheless. At least that's what the German Defence Minister, Volker Ruehe, told his British counterpart, George Robertson yesterday. Apparently he's been assured that the money will be there by Theo Waigel, the German Finance Minister. So that's alright then. Whether this assurance came before or after the shenanigans about German gold reserves is anyone's guess. It seems to be the Bundesbank that calls the shots in Germany these days, not Mr Waigel, and the Bundesbank appears rather less committed to the cause of European integration than the German government.

Whatever the case, we must for the time being assume that Mr Ruehe is as good as his word and the Germans are definitely in. If the Eurofighter worsens yet further the state of Germany's public finances in the run- up to monetary union, so be it. All of which must come as a mighty relief to the British Government, for whatever the merits or otherwise of the project, there is no doubt that we in Britain are now in it so deep that even if our New Labour masters (sorry, servants) did want to withdraw, they would find it very hard.

We've already spent pounds 5bn out of the pounds 15bn it will eventually cost us, thousands of hi-tech jobs as well as the future of our aerospace industry rely on it, and while you can argue about the military purpose of this extraordinary piece of machinery, the RAF certainly needs something for its pilots to fly in the next millennium. In other words, as far as we in Britain are concerned, it's too late for second thoughts. If the Germans pull out, it will cost us even more.

So let's hope that Mr Ruehe is right about July 11, when the German cabinet meets to discuss the budget, and that in the hunt for further spending cuts to replace the now banned gold reserves wheeze, the Eurofighter is not again to be the victim.