PARIS — France’s lower-house defense committee took a swipe at what it described as Germany’s self-interested approach in European defense matters, saying the Berlin government’s promotion of domestic firms comes at the expense of the greater industrial cooperation that is needed to increase strategic autonomy in the European Union.

European defense-industry cooperation should systemically apply a “best athlete” approach, said Jean-Louis Thiériot, one of two rapporteurs of an information report on Europe’s defense industry, in a parliamentary committee presentation on Wednesday. Participating countries should stop seeing joint programs as a tool to boost the skills of national manufacturers in a given segment, and the “principle of geographic return” should be scrapped, he said.

While France and Germany have moved ahead on joint programs to develop a sixth-generation fighter and a new battle tank, the rapporteurs said that Germany torpedoed several joint programs, didn’t involve France in the launch of its European Sky Shield Initiative, and is using the war in Ukraine to expand its defense-industry presence in Eastern Europe.

“Germany is now developing a genuine defense industrial strategy to extend its sphere of influence in Europe, which tends to increase the competitive logic even more, at the expense of the cooperative logic,” Thiériot said.

The new broadside at Berlin follows a storied history of bilateral defense-industrial squabbling, based on lingering mistrust, that senior government leaders from both countries have managed to wrangle at crucial moments to ensure joint programs can move forward.

Competition between European defense companies is “very strong” and even increasing, mainly because industrial cooperation is weak. Only 18% of capital expenditure on defense by European Union member states is collaborative, against a target of 35%, according to the rapporteurs.

While lack of political will may weigh on joint programs, the committee says the main hurdles are difficulties such as excessive time frames. Thiériot highlighted the Eurodrone program, with talks starting in 2013, for an arrival in the armed forces no earlier than 2030 at best, “in a radically different strategic context, with no certainty that what will arrive will correspond exactly to the needs of the time.”

Joint programs are also marred by participating governments seeking a return on investment for local firms rather than a best-in-class approach, while the value of capability harmonization is often diminished by demands for national specifications. The report cites the example of the NH90 medium-sized helicopter, which exists in nearly 50 different versions across European countries.

Strong intra-European competition is linked to “non-cooperative national strategies,” with the European space industry the biggest victim, according the committee.

The panel said Germany is the first to reaffirm competing national strategies in Europe, torpedoing Franco-German cooperation on the Maritime Airborne Warfare System patrol aircraft, the Tigre attack helicopter Standard 3 and the Common Indirect Fire System artillery project.

It says Berlin took “full advantage” of the NATO Framework Nations Concept to establish itself as the lead nation for the European Sky Shield missile defense project, which excludes MBDA, Europe’s leading missile manufacturer, while France was not involved in its launch. The project promotes Israel’s Arrow-3 and the U.S. Patriot system, “even though our Franco-Italian SAMP/T ground-air defense system could have met German requirements,” Thiérot said.

In the wake of the war in Ukraine, Germany is also pursuing a strategy of penetrating the defense markets of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, according to the committee report.

Rheinmetall is playing a “central role” through an aggressive expansion policy in those markets, with several partnerships to set up factories in Eastern Europe and co-finance a tank development project in Hungary, “even though we all know how divergent Hungary’s strategic choices can be from those of Europe in general,” Thiérot said.

The committee’s report is based on almost 50 hearings in Paris as well as roughly 30 interviews with executives, military and policy makers in various countries, including Sweden, Italy and Poland.

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

More In Europe
Biden drops out of 2024 race
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin praised Biden for his "profound and personal commitment to the Department of Defense and the American military" on Sunday.