EUROPE'S AEROSPACE manufacturers have a new representative body, charged with helping to gain the industry greater funding, political influence and cohesion. It will be a unique body in Europe if it achieves any of those aims.

The European Association of Aerospace Industries (EAAI) has double the budget of its predecessor: it has a full-time staff where its predecessor had none. If those developments mean that European manufacturers find it easier to talk to each other more often, then that must be a step forward for European co-operation. If, however, under this new umbrella organisation, easier and more frequent talk becomes a substitute for faster and more drastic action, then the EAAI will be no better than 1,001 other European organisations.

The lessons of history are not promising. Although there is a long list of European co-operative programmes stretching back to the 1960s (few of them untarnished by problems), that cannot be said of European integrations. Although some of the major aerospace companies have merged individual subsidiaries into cross-border joint ventures, there has been no significant cross-border merger of two or more prime contractors in Europe. Nor have efforts to promote joint research (even to the point of promoting a multi-site "European NASA") come to much, even though the scientific and industrial research budgets of all European countries are under severe pressure.

Co-operative programmes have themselves failed in general to advance the European cause. Few of them have been embarked upon other than at the behest of interested governments, themselves more keen on reducing the costs of their weapons or on limiting their exposure to techno-financial risk than on promoting the concept of a lean and efficient European industry.

Airbus stands virtually alone as an example of a co-operative venture, which has transcended national boundaries to become a truly "European" operation. Elsewhere, co-operation has been on a case-by-case, project-by-project basis, dogged by arguments over work-share and off-take. No secure, permanent relationships, which might lead to an eventual, tying of the knot have emerged.

At least partly, this lack of progress is down to the very governments, which have promoted so many of those co-operations in the past. No mater how sincerely they may believe in co-operation, there are few politicians in the world who would promote a policy which would improve global efficiency at the expense of jobs among their own voters. When it comes to a choice between restructuring and re-election, a politician can only go one way.

The German Government's co-ordinator for aerospace, Norbert Lammert, calls for the creating of new European structures - yet his is the Government which is keen to see more and more Airbus work moved to Germany's high-wage, high-manning-level industry from lower-cost areas.

The French minister of defence, Charles Millon, calls for joint European projects to be run on a prime/subcontractor basis instead of an offtake-determined partnership basis (a sentiment with which this journal heartily agrees), yet his government steadfastly maintains the state ownership of major aerospace companies, which precludes many such possible commercial deals from being pursued.

The UK deputy prime minister, (a genuine enthusiast for European aerospace co-operation) says, that manufacturers must create "single teams", yet his is the government which refuses to contemplate a "single team" of European political or monetary union.

The politicians may well be right on being an unnatural part of the industry, wishing to influence it from within as owner instead of from without as customer.

Nevertheless, in the end the politicians are irrelevant: if the industry itself wished to make faster progress towards true co-operation, integration and merger at a European rather than national level, then it could do so despite government interference rather than through it. The members of the EAAI will do best if they leave the talking to the politicians, and take the actions on themselves.

Source: Flight International