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Merkel Spared Cabinet Overhaul as Minister Parries Drone Charges

German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere deflected responsibility for a failed drone project as the opposition renewed calls on him to resign.

Less than two months before elections, de Maiziere today told a parliamentary investigative committee examining a cost explosion tied to the Euro Hawk spy drone that problems with the project had been presented to him as “solvable” before he made the decision to cancel it in May. He scrapped it after costs associated with airspace certification reached almost 600 million euros ($796 million).

De Maiziere, former chief of staff of Chancellor Angela Merkel, is being attacked by the opposition for failing to identify the rising drone costs earlier and accused of lying to parliament about when he knew what. Merkel has repeatedly stood behind the defense chief.

“A minister is always responsible for everything that happens in his domain and the responsibility can’t simply be shared,” Rainer Arnold, the lead Social Democrat on the parliament’s defense committee, told broadcaster N-TV today. “A defense minister can’t remain without trust. He should recognize that and do the troops a favor.”

De Maiziere said he “regretted” not being “clearer” in a June 5 defense committee hearing that he had received reports of cost issues, though they were portrayed as manageable.

The Euro Hawk is a modified version of the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft used by the U.S. Air Force, with European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co providing the sensor payload after teaming up with Northrop Grumman Corp. in 2000.

German elections are set for Sept. 22.

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