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News 25 Aug 17

Macron's Romania Visit Disappoints French Arms Firms

French military equipment and weapons manufacturers have voiced disappointment after President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Romania did not result in any confirmed arms sales. 

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Airbus helicopter. Photo: Airbus.com

On his brief stop-over in Romania on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macro did not secure any promises from Romania to buy French military equipment, representatives of weapon and aircraft manufacturers who accompanied the delegation said on Thursday.

Both French missile systems manufacturer MBDA and aircraft constructor Airbus signed memorandums of cooperation with Romanian state companies in Macron’s presence.

But the companies voiced worries that the documents did not offer any guarantees that Romania will actually buy French weapons, despite French investments in local factories.

French and American arms manufacturers are competing for billions of euros in contracts to arm Romania, especially after it increased its defence budget to 2 percent of GDP, as NATO requires.

This means a 3.6-billion-euro budget, to be spent mostly on modernizing the army, which still uses Soviet-made equipment.

However, the Romanian government moved to seal more deals with the United States in 2017 and French companies fear their investments may not generate returns.

MBDA on Thursday signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Romanian state weapons manufacturer Romarm to set up a working group to negotiate a deal between the company and the Romanian army on equipping it with short-range missiles, the company announced.

MBDA general manager Antoine Bouvier met journalists on Thursday night, after Macron’s visit, and explained that a deal might also include the transfer of technology and even of some production to Romania.

Romania’s short-range and very short-range missile systems need to be replaced and the government has allocated 2 billion euros over 10 years to re-equip the army. The French manufacturer is a serious candidate for the contract, along with Mistral and VL MICA.

Bucharest already made a 4-billion-dollar deal with US-based Raytheon for the medium and long-range Patriot missile system and a 1.25 billion-dollar contract with Lockheed Martin for mobile launchers. The short-range missile systems are the only ones left for the French to grab.

In the case of Airbus, Romania did not act as the French had hope. The company invested 56 million euros to move its helicopter production in Romania and inaugurated the plant last September, with Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos promising that the military would acquire some of the helicopters produced.

However, the deputy general manager of Airbus for Europe, Olivier Michalon, said that a year later, the Romanian government had not made any move in that direction.

On Thursday, Airbus also signed a 10-year extension of the current exclusive cooperation agreement with Romania over H215M helicopter.

According to this deal, Romania's IAR Ghimbav plant becomes the main contractor for the French multi-role helicopter for any order coming from the Defence Minstry in Romania on replacing its Puma helicopter fleet.

However, the document does not contain any guarantee that the Romanian military will buy the Airbus helicopters produced in IAR Ghimbav.

“I’d like to be confident. I have absolutely no guarantee, but I am still confident,” he told journalists on Thursday.

“If we produce [the helicopter] here, we need a pledge from the Romanian government as an initial client. If Romania does not buy the helicopter produced here, the export market is also questionable,” Michalon said.

The government said at the beginning of August it had sent the US a letter of intent to buy attack aircraft from Bell Helicopters. Romani also offered to host production in the same IR Ghimbav plant, where Airbus invested. 

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