By Fabien Zamora (AFP) – Jun 22, 2009
SEVILLE, Spain (AFP) — Defence ministers from the seven European nations engaged in building the troubled Airbus A400M military plane agreed Monday to postpone until next month a decision on whether to renegotiate the contract.
"We have reached an agreement to extend the deadline by one-month to look into the issues, in particular the financial questions with the company," said French Defence Minister Herve Morin.
The ministers from Germany, France, Britain, Spain, Turkey, Belgium and Luxembourg had gathered in Seville, southern Spain, on Monday to decide whether to grant a six-month delay to renegotiate the A400M contract with Airbus, a subsidiary of European aerospace giant EADS.
Deliveries of the A400M transporter were scheduled to start at the end of 2009 but the programme has suffered from delays of at least three years and clients have threatened to cancel their orders.
The seven countries initially had the possibility to cancel their orders as of April 1 because of the delays but EADS negotiated a three-month extension to present a new delivery timetable.
That extension was due to expire at the end of this month, but is now extended until the end of July.
France and Germany were in favour of a six-month delay to renegotiate the contract, but Britain expressed concern at the additional cost of such a move.
"For our British colleagues, it was out of the question," said Morin.
"It is better to avoid a complete blockage and I have proposed that we have this delay of one additional month," he said.
He proposed that the ministers meet again in late July to allow time to gather the "elements that it is hoped will allow us to be able to commit to a renegotiation of the contract and allow the continuation of the programme."
Quentin Davies, Britain's minister for defence equipment and support, described Monday's talks as "difficult."
Asked if Britain would remain in the project, he replied "we will be if we can be, but we need to make a very great deal of progress with (Airbus) in order to save this project."
Spain's secretary of state for defence Constantino Mendez emphasized that "all countries showed their willingness to be in the programme and that they did not plan to withdraw either completely or partially."
The military transport plane was unveiled last year but has been hit by delays in building its massive turbo-prop engines, putting the 20-billion-euro (28-billion-dollar) project at risk.
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