WASHINGTON — The German government will work to ease its restrictive export policy when pursuing joint weapon programs with European partners, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said on Monday.

The pledge follows a provision in the governing coalition’s charter, approved last year, that envisions a complete revamp of Berlin’s bureaucracy, famous for its secrecy and, as critics would argue, the appearance of political doublespeak on sales to problematic regimes like Saudi Arabia.

Speaking at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, Lambrecht argued Germany “owes” to its European partners a guarantee it will refrain from derailing exports of jointly developed weapons those countries need to offset their initial investments. “We make cooperation hard because we insist on special provisions and veto power,” Lambrecht said.

If countries like France, Italy or Spain see no problem with giving arms to a given country, Germany won’t invoke its “values caveats” and hold up sales, she added. “We’re not talking about delivering to rogue states,” Lambrecht clarified.

Arms exports have been an evergreen topic in Berlin policy circles, as the issue combines thorny questions on military and morality for which no muscle memory exists in modern Germany.

The country’s cabinet agency devoted to economic affairs has the lead for arms exports, combining input from the Defense and Foreign Affairs departments.

The trinational Future Combat Air System of Germany, France and Spain — now hindered by work-share disagreements among key industry players Dassault and Airbus Defence and Space — almost died some years ago because of export disagreements. French officials were pushing against a German veto caveat for eventual exports of the aerial weapon, going so far as to threaten abandoning the project over the disagreement.

In the end, officials decided to table the issue, as Germany instituted a policy of approving exports by default if components included few Teutonic contributions.

It remains to be seen how Lambrecht and Chancellor Olaf Scholz can wrangle their party, the Social Democrats, as well as the Greens into a compromise. Both parties have vocal opponents to loosening arms export controls.

According to Lambrecht, finding a more permissive policy could give a needed push to European Union defense-related development programs.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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