BERLIN (Reuters) - The chief executive of aerospace and defense group Airbus (AIR.PA) criticized the German government on Thursday for its restrictive arms export policy, saying it could deter international cooperation on future defense projects.
"When it comes to defense and security policy, what the German government says and what it does are two very different things," Tom Enders said in a statement provided to Reuters.
German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel, who plans to tighten the rules on arms exports to security-sensitive areas, last month told the country's arms industry that its future lay in consolidation with European peers.
However, he is reportedly skeptical about a planned tie-up of German tank and armored vehicles maker Krauss-Maffei Wegmann with French rival Nexter, instead preferring an all-German partnership between KMW and Rheinmetall (RHMG.DE).
In addition, Berlin is blocking a contract for European multinational missile maker MBDA to supply Qatar with the Milan ER anti-tank missile by not giving approval for parts to be transferred from Germany to France, defense sources told Reuters. The contract hold-up was earlier reported by French daily Les Echoes.
Airbus owns 37.5 percent of MBDA, and other shareholders are Finmeccanica SIFI.MI and BAE Systems (BAES.L).
"While there are lofty speeches being made that talk about more cooperation and consolidation in European defense, the axe is being swung at decades of Franco-German cooperation," Enders said.
Enders, a former German defense ministry planner and paratroop reservist who has overhauled Airbus to reduce French and German state influence, has previously said tighter export rules could cost jobs in Germany. On Thursday he said that Berlin's actions could hamper progress at a European level.
"Which European government will want to work on important defense projects with Germany in the future? How can such a one-sided and populistic view help to drive forward a common European defense and security policy?" Enders said.
The German economy ministry said in response that it would continue to follow a restrictive arms export policy.
"Respecting human rights is of high importance when it comes to export decisions, irrespective of which country is the receiver. This also holds true for the export of German parts," it said in a statement.
Germany's arms industry directly employs some 80,000 people and exports rose 24 percent to 5.85 billion euros in 2013 from 2012. The surge in exports triggered the moves by Gabriel to curb sales to states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, whose purchases had previously helped make Germany the world's third largest arms exporter.
German firms have complained that Gabriel's more restrictive arms policy has already held up thousands of export permit applications and Rheinmetall has warned on profits after Germany blocked an agreed deal to sell combat simulation equipment to Russia, going beyond EU sanctions which blocked future defense contracts.
Writing by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Noah Barkin, Greg Mahlich and Mark Potter