German go-ahead for Eurofighter

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Germany finally agreed to go ahead with the pounds 40bn Eurofighter project, which at its peak will sustain 70,000 jobs in Britain and hundreds of thousands across Europe.

Defence ministers from the four nations involved in developing the hi- tech aircraft - Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain - are now expected to sign the vital production investment phase of the programme in Brussels next Wednesday.

For more than a year Britain has been pressing Germany to support the project, but the Bonn government has been beset by budgetary problems. Finally Volker Ruehe, the German defence minister, has persuaded the finance ministry that the aircraft is essential for Germany's defence needs and its aerospace industry.

Last night's decision clears the way for the four to sign up to the investment required to launch full-scale production. The British government, which has ring-fenced Eurofighter in the Strategic Defence Review, is preparing to buy 232 of the aircraft in a pounds 15.4bn programme.

It is a significant boost for British industry - notably British Aerospace, which will produce the wings and part of the fuselage; Rolls-Royce, which is a partner in the manufacture of the engines; and GEC-Marconi, which is tied into many of the electronics systems.