Macron’s Mild Negotiations as FCAS Project Development Requires Compromise

  • + France, Germany and Spain have teamed together to create the new European fighter jet.
  • + Macron is finding himself deadlocked over points of cooperation.
  • + The squabbling between the leaders over industry intelligence and governance have produced questions surrounding the future of the project. 
El presidente francés, Emmanuel Macron.
Emmanuel Macron/Thierry Roge (DPA)

Why is Macron’s heat level mild?

Answer: Merkel and Macron are butting heads in the negotiation process of the FCAS project.

Macron has teamed with Germany and Spain in order to create Europe’s new common fighter jet to enter service in 2040. The project, signed into agreement in 2017, was initially a cost-efficient innovation to provide the three nations with a sixth-generation aircraft with stealth technology. However, the development process of the project is proving convoluted and lengthy with growing tensions between Macron and Merkel in areas of negotiation. The CEO Dassault Aviation, Eric Trapper has identified the squabbling as a “trouble” for the progress of the programme. 

In the four years since the agreement, the development of the project has been considerably stalled. An unwillingness from Merkel to release money into the project over worry that the project was favouring the French industry Dassault in 2020 was just the start of many conflicts between the two leaders. 

Furthermore, France, with experience and intelligence in building fighter jets, is far more equipped than its counterparts in the project to accelerate the project. France’s industry representative has more than enough knowledge and resources to build the aircraft alone, coming off the Rafale and Mirage fighter classes. Therefore, the negotiations thus far have seen Macron attempt to isolate Germany in the area of intellectual property, which has consequently left the German’s fearing for their attribution to the project with a ‘black box’ of information withheld by the French and pushing for further control over the project. 

The scepticism of the Germans is mirrored in Paris, with Macron unwilling to make further compromises. Whereas France can offer the technology and the know-how to the project, a dependency on Germany is required to achieve sufficient funding and industry cooperation. A continuous distrust and squabbling between the leaders could devastate the project plans or worse, lead to a complete cancellation. 

What is changing Macron’s heat level?

Answer: Germany’s non-compliance to Macron’s previous concessions.

The initial venture came at a time when the EU was rattled by Britain’s decision to depart the EU and a climate of mistrust between the EU nations has followed. Merkel’s inability to trust the French to lead the project without access to industry knowledge has stalled the process. Like Macron, Merkel is seen putting individual interests over the success of the programme, and Macron has only responded in the same way. A dedication to European integration in a post-covid world is applying pressure to Macron to ensure the success of the project. 

With Spain recently accompanying Macron and Merkel in the project, it has disrupted the split of industry means. Whereas the initial bilateral project posited a 50/50 split between the French representing Dassault and the German representing Airbus, 66% of the industry means will now be held by Airbus by representing Germany and Spain. Eric Trapper has noted that this makes the project far more complicated and could indicate a need for either more concessions from Macron or an amicable approach from Merkel. 

However, with Merkel recently backing down in demanding Dassault’s intellectual property to be shared and a willingness to allow the French defense industry giant to take the lead, Macron’s strong negotiations may have already bagged him the control of the project. With Merkel beginning to put aside individual interests in order to uphold integrity in building a world-leading European fighter aircraft, could we expect a smoother negotiation process moving forward? It calls into question whether Merkel can continue with the project without further concessions from Macron. 

What is driving Macron? 

Answer: Both a desire to protect France’s know-how and further European integration.

On one hand, France’s industry advantages have allowed Macron to negotiate with Germany on equal footing in the project negotiations, pitting French technological know-how with Germany’s industrial and financial resources. However, France has a past behaviour of being involved in early discussions of fighter jet programmes and then leaving to pursue its own projects, as exemplified by the Tornado and Eurofighter programs (in which France did not participate, individually developing the Rafale instead). Having an upper hand in the areas of industry intelligence is indicated to be driving Macron in his ambitions to protect French interests against the German’s attempts to grapple for more control over the project. With concessions already made on Macron’s behalf, he is seen unwilling to give in to the greediness of the Germans. History tells us that France could be fine working unilaterally on an aircraft and suggests a further unwillingness from Macron to provide leeway for German involvement. 

However, it has been rumoured that Macron would have preferred a partnership with the UK had they not been already working on their own aircraft project, Tempest. Anxieties surrounding competition with the UK could push the negotiations even more chilly on Macron’s behalf, suggesting a dependency on European integration may be needed to build a competing fighter jet. However, this competition could also be a unifying cause for the Europeans. 

Further, worries have arisen that the failure of the project could allow room for Americans to attempt to sell their F-35s, which may not look so good for Europe’s geo-political image. Macron’s mild stance in the negotiation process could be explained by his ambivalence about where his geo-political priorities remain; on one hand Macron’s intent is to strengthen Europe’s security in the global sphere, but on the other lies an inherent drive to protect France’s global image and its distinctive industry advantages.  

What does this mean for you?

Answer: An endless amount of squabbling over the project could destabilize Europe’s image.

If reconciliation between the European nations becomes highly improbable, we could expect the two countries to produce two independent fighter jet projects. This could benefit Macron by defending France’s industry edge but could exacerbate tensions between the countries and perhaps an unstable image of Europe as a whole. 

With the UK simultaneously working on an aircraft, should the plans for a world-leading Eurofighter collapse, increased disparity in defence capabilities between the EU and its competitor could arise. 

In moving forward, what will be called into question is whether the two countries will put aside individual interests for an integrative project to enhance European security. A successful aircraft built on European integration and cooperativeness could rebrand Europe a more powerful union and set precedent for future negotiations. 

Elle Osborn

R&A Alumna