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Defense

Opinion: A high-tech drone crash lands

The failed Euro Hawk drone project has cost German taxpayers tons of money, and the Defense Ministry sympathy - but the biggest loser could be Chancellor Merkel, who may lose re-election, says DW's Marcel Fürstenau.

Marcel Fürstenau

DW's Marcel Fürstenau

The opposition has been calling for Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere to step down for a long time. But could it be that the opposition Social Democrats, Greens, and Left party overestimated their power over the embattled minister? After all, it seems that the blame for the disaster of the aborted Euro Hawk drone project mostly lies at the door of State Secretary Stephane Beemelmans.

"The responsibility lies solely with me," de Maiziere's long-time confidant said before the parliamentary committee investigating the case. It's a remarkable line to hear after weeks of speculations over why the horrendously expensive high-tech drone project was cancelled before its launch.

The Defense Ministry admitted that it had invested more than half a million euros into the project, only to realize after 10 years of research and development that there are "problems that can't be solved." This information, de Maiziere claims, reached him only on May 13 - from Beemelmans.

"I informed him the way I saw it fit," Beemelmans explained, when he was asked why he hadn't told de Maiziere earlier. That in itself is another remarkable statement - apparently Germany's defense minister receives crucial information about an allegedly indispensable defense system only when his most trusted staff member feels like it.

From ideal candidate to risk factor

So that's how one of Germany's most important ministries functions - under the stewardship of a man who for years had built up a reputation of reliability and attention to detail.

At first glance, de Maiziere was the ideal candidate for a ministry that for a long time had been fighting on two fronts: restructuring the military from a traditional defense force into a flexible unit that can fight abroad, while at the same time putting an end to Germany's compulsory military service. But the drone scandal though shows how wide a gap there is between reality and ideal.

The state secretary also claimed that his superior was not obliged to know about a project of such extreme significance. This is Beemelmans' third remarkable statement, and it apparently confirms just how astonishingly chaotic communication in the Defense Ministry seems to be.

The political responsibility for this surely lies with the minister himself - who should therefore step down together with his close aides.

A few gently critical words about his poor handling of the situation and his crisis management are not enough for a scandal of such scope. It would be too easy to allow him to hold on to his post by pointing out - admittedly justifiably - the mistakes made by his predecessors.

Moreover, stepping down would also do Angela Merkal a favor. The general election is looming on September 22 and Merkel hopes to win her third term in office. Thomas de Maiziere clinging to his job could easily turn into a dangerous risk for that ambition.

DW.DE

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