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The end of the Mistral contract: is France really losing out?

(BRUSSELS2) The cancellation of the delivery contract to the Russians for the two BPC Mistral type helicopter carriers — the Vladivostok and the Sébatospol — may appear very unfavorable to the French. 1,2 billion euros in compensation, two ships on hand to spare... the bill may seem heavy, at first sight. However, we must beware of a short-sighted analysis....

Firstly, French industry was able to win other contracts, notably with Poland, thanks to this cancellation. It is not obvious that the Polish government could have signed a contract with a European industrialist (but with a strong French tone) for the helicopters which on the other side sold weapons to the Russians. Otherwise more profitable in the long term than the Russian contract. (read about the club: Poland divides its first contracts between Europeans and Americans).

Secondly, we quite often forget that this contract has given the St-Nazaire shipyards a real boost. At the end of the 2000s, at the beginning of 2010, the former shipyards of the Atlantic were not at their best. The construction of civilian ships (large ocean liners) was then lacking. The workforce had shrunk from year to year, employing just over 2000 people at the start of 2010, with a new social plan for 200 people at work. The anticipated order in 2009 of a third BPC, the Diksmuide, had given a first breath of fresh air to the sites that the manufacture of the two Russian BPCs had completed, thus enabling it to cross a difficult period. The Russian PCB market represented - explained the Elysée at the time - " 5 million hours of work and 1.000 jobs maintained for four years » for the STX shipyards and the French manufacturer DCNS (1). In a certain way, the cancellation of the order of the ships resembles from an economic point of view a public aid of State, even if it does not take the form of it. Aid that does not need to pass under the caudine forks of the European Commission.

Third, by breaking this contract, Paris puts a definitive cross on the second part of the contract. This consisted in transferring part of the know-how to the Russian shipyards in St Petersburg to enable them to manufacture two replicas of the Mistral type ships. By signing this contract in 2011, also contested by certain military-industrial circles, Moscow hoped to gain in technology and catch up with some of the delay acquired by Russian shipyards. The Russians had given up in 2012 on this option, which was much more risky both for the French maritime industry and for the geopolitical balance than the delivery of the two ships. Vladivostok et Sevastopol.

Finally, the possible possibility of reselling the vessel should not be underestimated, which could reduce the bill accordingly.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) Never stingy with emphasis, Nicolas Sarzkoy, rounded up to higher figures: 6 million hours and 1200 jobs according to the President of the Republic.

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).