German defence minister Volker Rühe is trying to use the endangered Eurofighter EF2000 programme to pressure finance minister Theo Waigel to keep his hands off Germany's overstretched defence budget.

The defence ministry has confirmed that Rühe will only support an emergency funding plan, which could save the EF2000, if he gets a guarantee from Waigel of no more cuts up to the year 2000.

Senior defence sources in Bonn say that the finance ministry may otherwise push for a further cutback of up to DM700 million ($437.5 million) in the 1998 defence budget plan.

Government and industry are talking about covering a DM1 billion Eurofighter funding deficit, spread over four years, by early repayment by Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) of Government loans made in support of Airbus projects.

Waigel, who is struggling to meet criteria for European Monetary Union in 1999, may be forced to agree to Rühe's demands, to protect his local political interests in Bavaria, home of Dasa and Eurofighter.

German industry chiefs say that pulling out of the programme would cost 18,000 current and potential Eurofighter-related jobs nationwide, and destroy Germany's credibility in the European industry's consolidation process.

Dasa and its supplier companies have said that Eurofighter work will stop if the Government does not give a commitment in July to production. "We have no other option," says Dasa military-aircraft president Aloysius Rauen. He believes that, if Germany withdraws, the whole project will die.

According to Rauen, Dasa has paid DM200 million of its own money into the programme since the end of 1994, and has been funding pre-production work to the tune of DM1 million a day since the beginning of this year.

The statement coincided with the first official visit to Germany of new UK defence secretary George Robertson, who met Rühe on 4 June. Following the meeting, Rühe said that he was confident that funding would be found.

Source: Flight International