Are current bosses of EADS and ministers from seven countries that ordered the A400M responsible for their predecessors' sins? The debacle over the airlifter shows how far Europe's bold journey to create an aerospace champion has gone in the 10 years since EADS was formed - and the distance it still must travel.
EADS was an attempt to replicate with its four partner countries' defence and space capabilities what these nations had begun three decades earlier with Airbus - to create an industrial powerhouse with the critical mass to compete with US primes, and sustain a domestic defence capability extending down the supply chain and creating high-value employment.
All laudable aims. However, the conflict EADS's bosses have had is how free they have been to act as conventional corporate executives and how much politicians have tied their hands.
© Airbus Military
Enders: thumbs up for government intervention
Just as EADS has matured from a politically inspired enterprise into a market leader in airliners and civil helicopters and an emerging global force in space technology, defence and security, its leaders today behave differently than their predecessors a decade ago.
It was the latter who signed the fixed-price contract to deliver the A400M from 2009, and agreed under pressure to buy the engines from a four-nation European consortium that EADS chief executive Louis Gallois now describes as the "most baroque organisation" he has come across. Gallois and Airbus's Tom Enders say they would never have signed that contract and that politicians at the time should not have pushed it as they knew they were handing EADS a Herculean task.
On one hand their stance is a blatant abrogation of corporate responsibility. In what other business could executives get off with washing their hands of poor decisions made by their recent predecessors (banking is a possible exception)? Imagine Airbus penalising A380 customers because the superjumbo was late, rather than finding funds to compensate them for the delay.
On the other hand, the threat to terminate the programme without further government funds is pragmatic and courageous. The pain of governments having to dip into growing deficit budgets to bail out EADS is far outweighed by the risk of damaging Airbus commercially at a time when it needs to fund the A350 programme, destroying thousands of jobs and forcing the seven governments to buy American for their airlift needs.
Like the banks, it seems that - whoever's fault it is - the A400M is simply too big to fail.