France, Italy to spend EUR 11bn on frigates

4th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 4 (AFP) - French president Jacques Chirac and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi agreed in Paris Tuesday to launch an ambitious joint frigate-building programme that will be one of Europe's biggest-ever naval projects.

PARIS, Oct 4 (AFP) - French president Jacques Chirac and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi agreed in Paris Tuesday to launch an ambitious joint frigate-building programme that will be one of Europe's biggest-ever naval projects.

The two leaders formally authorised the first stage of the previously announced programme, which is to ultimately build 27 frigates at a total cost of EUR 11bn, Chirac's spokesman, Jean-François Bureau, said.

The initiative, known as the Renaissance project in Italy and the FREMM (European Multi-Mission Frigates) project in France, represents a key step towards the development of European and NATO rapid-reaction forces, which would rely on the ships to project military power.

France is to take 17 of the vessels -- which will reportedly be also suited to land-attack missions -- while Italy will take 10. The first of the frigates are expected to be ready for service in five years' time, with the last hitting the water in 2020.

The French and Italian defence ministers, Michèle Alliot-Marie and Antonio Martino, signed the accord at Chirac's Elysée palace during a bilateral summit Tuesday.

Funding for the massive project had looked threatened by the financial straits of the two countries, which are struggling with poor economic performance and requirements to stay within deficit restrictions imposed by their membership in the eurozone.

Italy's government, in particular, initially dragged its heels in allocating the money, but relented under pressure from Italian military chiefs who feared France might go it alone and Italy would be left with an obsolescent fleet -- its current frigates will be retired in four years -- and a defence industry starved of contracts.

The frigates are set to be conventionally powered vessels outfitted with automated systems requiring no more than 123 crew members.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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