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Transatlantic aircraft story 2 (Airbus vs. Boeing)

Népszabadság Online - 30 avril, 2005
Hajnalka Vincze

„Why is the American government supporting and subsidizing US aircraft industry through defence contracts? Simply because the future of the US, and of Europe in our case, is not in perfume or popcorn. The future is in electronics, computers, aircraft, missiles and space.” – the remark was made by Jean Pierson, ex-president of Airbus Industrie, in 1987.

The American policy in this field – as in so many others – swung into full gear during the Clinton administration. They mobilized every means at the State’s disposal to ensure what they called „economic security”. In other words: the well-being of US companies and their dominating global "competitiveness". For the Europeans, it would have been extremely difficult not to notice that, this time, they were directly threatened. Their technological-industrial basis - the pillar of their sovereignty – was visibly at stake. Aircraft industry, and within it the Airbus affair, has acquired an exemplary value. Led by Martin Bangemann, Commissioner for industrial policy, The EU assumed openly that in startegically crucial sectors, European competitors might need active support vis-a-vis dominating external actors.

Pascal Lamy – EU External Trade Commissioner until 2004 – said that the Commission was there to act as the "legal shield" for Airbus. And rightly so. The abandonment of its technological-industrial basis, at the heart of its sovereignty, would mean the end of Europe. Increased dependence in this field entails the drastic reduction of political decision-making room for manoeuvre. There are tons of examples of US government intervention in favour of Boeing; by political arms twisting (eg. in Israel, Taiwan) or espionage (via the NSA’s Echelon system, with the assistance of the highly schizophrenic British ally). All of which shed a rather peculiar light on Boeing’s claim to be the upholder of free competition, the privatest of all private companies (as opposed to the allegedly stillborn Airbus, kept in life only thanks to juicy government subsidies).

In addition, Boeing accumulates a series of corruption scandals: the latest to date being the one around the Pentagon tender for air-to air refueling tanker. The corrupted DoD officials notwithstanding, the affair deserves to be noticed because of the very particular conditions of the Pentagon tender, with Airbus being obviously invited only to save appearances. Following a new turn of events, the same tender is used as a lever to make pressure on Europeans as regards Airbus’ launching aids (entirely refundable), or to blackmail them on the subject of the possible lift of the Chinese arms embargo.

Even if the Airbus-Boeing debates are focused on the subsidies on both sides and the repercussions in terms of employment, the true issue is of an eminently strategic nature. For the Americans, it is about ousting any other competitor and to firmly establish their monopoly in the whole of the crucial aerospace sector. For Europeans, it is a question of preserving human resources and the technological and industrial bases in this highly strategic field, closely related to defence capabilities and programs (where their major divisions traditionally prevent them from presenting a united front vis-a-vis the US designs). 

Full text in Hungarian.


armement, airbus

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