Straight, No Chaser: Guns or butter?
The heady days of summer are well and truly over and most people are now firmly ensconced back at work. Perhaps not all – our politicians only really return to proper work on the first Tuesday in October, when Parliament officially opens. However, there has been a fair amount of political sparring during the summer months.
Plain wrong, plane quandary
Silly season or not, the new defence minister, Carl Holst, has already become embroiled in a scandal regarding a pay-off from his previous job as head of Region Syddanmark.
By dint of a special agreement, to tide him over, he was entitled to a golden handshake of over 800,000 kroner of taxpayer’s money in addition to his ministerial salary of around 1.2 million kroner. After initial attempts to brazen it out by insisting that it was all according to the rules, a Solomonic compromise was reached whereby he agreed to forgo the payment – but only after accepting over half the amount!
However, there are more pressing issues on the horizon, not least the desire to find a new jet fighter to replace the ageing F16s that are the current mainstay of the Danish air force.
There are three candidates: the American Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet; the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is a joint venture between Germany, the UK, Italy and Spain; and finally the American Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
More bang for your buck
Now we’re certainly not talking small change here. Even in its initial phase, the project is expected to cost around 30 billion kroner. This would be the largest single investment of public money this century and one and a half times the cost of the bridge over the Great Belt. If the long-term cost of the aircraft is factored in, the amount could be as much as 150 billion kroner.
What is arguably worse is that this project is being negotiated under a heavy veil of secrecy, with ‘security considerations’ being used as a convenient blanket to dampen discussion even amongst politicians.
It is obvious that the money would be able to provide substantial amounts of welfare in these severely cash-strapped times. One estimate calculates that for the price of just one aircraft, 2,170 teachers could be employed for one year. Alternatively, one aircraft costs the same as 4,747,774 visits from a home help to an elderly person.
Carrot and stick
The carrot being dangled before the public to make them swallow this expenditure is the promise of jobs in Denmark, which theoretically would be part of the winning project. However, even this is doubtful, as EU competition rules may make it illegal to create jobs in this way.
Finally, there is some doubt as to whether the Joint Strike Fighter, which is tipped as favourite to win the bidding war, will be fit for purpose. Apart from several significant cost overruns in development, performance concerns and alleged espionage by the Chinese gaining information on the design, it is still being refined. Danish pilots have not been able to test-fly the aircraft to evaluate it, as you have to sign a purchase order before being allowed to do
It seems obvious that foreign policy issues are the real drivers here. The ultimate decision will hinge as much on Denmark’s desire to keep on good terms politically and militarily with the US as on the real merits of the respective aircraft.
Would you buy a new car without at least test-driving it?
An Englishman abroad, Stephen has lived and worked in Denmark since 1978. His interests include music, art, cooking, real ale, politics and cats.