by Dr Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann MdB, member of the Bundestag and the federal board of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), Berlin
The model of the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr, as a “parliamentary army” has always been viewed on the French side with suspicion, as a factor hampering Franco-German cooperation. Our French friends, accustomed to a centralised presidential system with rapid decision making, see the German system as slow and subject to blockages, unable to make quick decisions and take immediate action. The fact that our armaments industry is privately owned and not organised by the state, is seen as an additional obstacle to rapid decision making.
A parliamentary army..
Although it is quite understandable that the French side would like to see greater speed in decision making in Franco-German cooperation, I see our Bundeswehr as having a unique status in terms of democratic legitimacy that is imperative to preserve, and not only with regard to German history.
The same applies to the privately owned defence sector. There are good reasons why we in Germany discuss every Bundeswehr mandate for foreign engagements and also raise questions about their military equipment. As Members of Parliament, we have responsibility for our soldiers.
The status of German forces is enshrined in our constitution. Operations are not approved lightly or planned at the stroke of a pen, but must be well thought out, intensively discussed and approved by Parliament. This prevents rapid deployments by the heads of government – but that is precisely the purpose of our parliamentary army: to protect and have due respect for the people who risk their lives for our peace and freedom in missions around the world. Such operations must never again be decided lightly.
…and a privately owned arms industry
In the interests of quality and to encourage competition for the best possible equipment, it is also logical for the arms industry to be privately owned – the best should prevail here as well. Clear rules on arms exports are also needed. However, it is true that our partners, like France, need dependability. Restrictions on arms exports are one thing, but our partners must be able to rely on the fact that our rules are strict and clear and are not subject to frequent changes according to taste and circumstances. It is preferable to have tough restrictions, which one knows and can adhere to, rather than soft export conditions, which are thrown overboard at the slightest change in circumstances. In addition, we need reliability in government. What regularly causes irritation in France, and rightly so, is the erratic behaviour of part of the Federal Government on equipment issues relating to Franco-German projects. The future of the Eurodrone, for example, was hanging by a thread after leaders of the Social Democrats made the arming of the Heron drones dependent on the outcome of a future nationwide debate and possibly on international agreements too! 10 years of debate in Germany is an affront to our partners. Only under the greatest pressure did the coalition committee reach a partial compromise, although the question of final armament has still not been resolved.
We need a strong European defence
It is also clear that Europe, and Germany in particular, must come of age. Even under Joe Biden, it is not possible within Europe and NATO to stand on the side lines and rely on the US to do the heavy lifting! Those days are over. Europe must become stronger in order to hold its own in a changed, multipolar world. The USA is increasingly focusing its power on a political confrontation with the People’s Republic of China. Europe’s responsibility for its own affairs is increasing. The focus here is, for example, the German-French-Spanish fighter aircraft system, FCAS. Here, too, our partners need reliability.
It will be the task of us all, and not only after the upcoming Bundestag elections, to fully restore this reliability. Because it is also clear to us that friendship between Germany and France and Franco-German cooperation in the defence sector are of fundamental importance and must be based on dependability. They must not be put at risk lightly. The French need to understand the unique characteristics of the parliamentary army and the privately owned armaments sector, which guarantees the quality of equipment through competition. The French must also recognise the lead of the respective countries in joint armaments procurement projects, but they naturally expect reliability. What is needed in cooperation is open and regular communication as well as clear and rigorously observed export guidelines to which everyone can adapt, and quick decisions by the Budget and Defence Committees as well as the Federal Ministry of Finance – and no party-political intrigues to the detriment of the military!