Ruhe taunts UK over new plane

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The Independent Online
THE GERMAN Defence Minister, Volker Ruhe, yesterday taunted his British counterpart, Malcolm Rifkind, challenging him to explain his determination to continue with the European Fighter Aircraft (EFA) to British miners who face redundancy.

Mr Ruhe was speaking in German at a news conference at Gleneagles, in Scotland, where Mr Rifkind had tried to keep in the Spanish and Italians, partners in what started as a four-nation project, despite Mr Ruhe's determination to withdraw.

Britain is determined to continue with the plane, if necessary alone, to preserve the aerospace industry and because no other plane will meet the RAF's requirements for a new aircraft from 1998. Mr Ruhe, who is widely seen as a possible successor to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, repeated his determination to see the project scrapped for a less capable plane developed to meet needs in the post-Cold War world.

The British Ministry of Defence and British Aerospace say that to do that at this stage, with the first EFA about to fly, will cost more. In an attack on the cost of the EFA programme, Mr Ruhe said: 'I must explain it to my people in Dresden.' This was probably a reference to the economic depression in eastern Germany rather than to the city's incineration by British and US bombers in 1945. But a senior civil servant said: 'It did seem to me a most unfortunate place to choose'.

Referring to Britain's determination to keep the aerospace industry going, Mr Ruhe said: 'I would like to know how my British colleague will be able to explain it to his miners.'