ECONOMY

Greece supports setting up a European armaments agency

Greece is pushing for greater integration of defense purchasing to help make European companies more competitive, alongside EU efforts to forge a common defense policy, the country’s defense minister said. Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou told Reuters in an interview this weekend that a proposed set of common European standards and procedures for arms purchases would help the industry become more competitive and stem the erosion of its market share vis-a-vis US manufacturers. He said Greece, which now holds the rotating six-month European Union presidency, is backing a proposal to set up a European armaments agency with the aim of creating a single market for defense products. Papantoniou said the German, French and British governments also favored setting up such a Pan-European body. «These measures are designed to reinforce the competitiveness of our industries and enable them to compete more effectively with our competitors on the other side of the Atlantic,» Papantoniou said. He said this should allow European countries to specialize, improving industries’ competitiveness and creating jobs. «If the policy proves to be successful, I believe there will be a net creation of jobs and definitely a substantial boost to European competitiveness overall as a result of the intensity of this business in terms of innovation and new technologies.» Papantoniou said that Greece would probably focus on shipyards, seen as a competitive part of the country’s business, as well as air defense, repair and construction industries and military equipment manufacturing. Eurofighter purchase He said such measures would not be designed to seal off the European market from US firms and other competitors. «I cannot see the grounds for any objections from either the United States or within the World Trade Organization. There will be moves which are consistent with the overall European policy to create a single market and reinforce competitiveness.» Papantoniou added that Greece still hopes to go ahead with the proposed purchase of 60 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets at nearly 5 billion euros ($5.4 billion), although the deal has been postponed until after 2004. «A decision will be taken by the next government after the elections. We shall move after 2004. The political choice remains intact, but the implementation decision will have to determined by the next government,» he said. He also said he expected a slice of the country’s future defense orders to go to Britain after it recently missed out on some of the biggest Greek military orders, including a tank order placed with Germany last year. Greece, which aims to reduce defense spending from 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product to below 4 percent in the next couple of years, has earmarked 11.7 billion euros for defense between 2001 and 2005. «We want to augment the part of British industry to our military orders. My feeling is that in the next year or two new orders will be coming to Britain from our military equipment programs.»