Eurofighter given the green light

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Germany's warring government departments have struck a deal to bankroll Eurofighter, the controversial combat jet to be built together with Britain, Italy and Spain. Until now, German indecision has held up the project, already approved by the other participating countries.

Though a final Cabinet decision is only due on Friday, details of the agreement between the ministries of finance and defence have been widely leaked. According to these, Volker Ruhe, the Defence Minister, will receive 850 million German marks (pounds 289m) next year and DM1.2bn (pounds 408m) in 1999, specifically earmarked for the multi-purpose combat aircraft that will replace the Luftwaffe's Phantom jets.

There will, however, be wide collateral damage to the German armed forces. Despite the large Eurofighter entry fees, Mr Ruhe's overall budget is expected to take an overall cut of DM500m, at a time when half the army's tanks are already rusting away because there is not enough money for repairs and fuel.

Germany will order 180 Eurofighters at an estimated cost of DM23.3bn (pounds 7.95bn). German companies have invested DM6.5bn in research costs, and some 40,000 jobs are estimated to depend on the project, mainly at Dasa, the aeronautics division of Daimler-Benz.

The new planes are the only beneficiary of an emergency budget expected to be submitted on Friday to the Cabinet by Theo Waigel, the Finance Minister. As Germany desperately prunes back branches of the welfare state in order to meet Maastricht targets, it is hard to justify such huge sums on an untested weapon aimed at an unknown enemy.

But Mr Waigel, a Bavarian, was always likely to be sympathetic to Eurofighter, because most of the jobs it would generate are in his homeland. That may not silence the critics, however hard the government will try to rationalise the decision on economic grounds. The pacifist Greens are naturally opposed, as are most of the Social Democrats, who argue that Eurofighter is an expensive luxury with no obvious benefits.

On the government benches, too, there is a great deal of scepticism, especially among the Free Democrats. But, just as it has sown the seeds of discord in the government, Eurofighter will also split the opposition. With the greatest reluctance and a great deal of squirming, Bavarian Social Democrats are likely to vote with their constituents' pockets in mind.