Outlook: Strategic concerns disarm the French

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The Independent Online
The need for Europe's defence industries to rationalise is finally beginning to receive some political impetus, even though the structure of what may emerge is still a long way off the radar screen. Today the defence and industry ministers of Britain, France and Germany will present a united front in calling for their respective arms manufacturers to restructure or face annihilation at the hands of American counterparts.

Cheekily, the French nipped in a day early with a sighting shot yesterday from their Defence Minister, Alain Richard. He suggests that the restructuring might be modelled on the corporate makeover now being undertaken at the civil aircraft manufacturer Airbus. Can this possibly be the same country that has resolutely said "non" to any foreign involvement in the restructuring of its own defence sector?

Improbably, this does indeed seem to be the case. The French have become converts to the cause of pan-European defence consolidation having realised that the alternative is to be outflanked by an Anglo/ German pincer movement. The joint (though doomed) bid by British Aerospace and Daimler for Thomson-CSF was one early warning. Another was the BAe/ Daimler acquisition of Siemens Defence.

With the French now on board, the idea of consolidation moves from the wish list to the drawing board. But given the mix of chauvinism and secrecy that goes with defence procurement, merging Europe's defence industries remains a daunting task.

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