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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 16:07 GMT
No targets for defence deals
British troops training in Oman in 2001
There is some scepticism about privatising the military
By BBC News Online's Stefan Armbruster in Paris

Dejected defence contractors wrapped up Europe's first military privatisation conference in Paris on a downbeat note, after European governments cold shouldered the flagship British programme.

BAE Systems conference stand
BAE waiting for customers
The Defence Partnerships conference, sponsored by the British government's private finance initiative (PFI) agency Partnerships UK, was designed as a sales pitch to the French, German and other governments.

"This was a very important conference for those involved in defence procurement," said Richard Powell, project director of Partnerships UK.

"But their absence is not particularly significant," he added, putting a brave face on the European absence.

No interest

Conference organizers WBR said despite repeated attempts to secure French participation, they were continually rebuffed.

"This has been an eye opening experience for us," said a Canadian Ministry of Defence official.

"We have been sceptical about PFIs but came to see what our European counterparts were doing," she said, adding the conference had done little to persuade them to embrace the initiatives.

No money

Defence Partnerships, which was sponsored and attended by the biggest names in the British defence and private finance initiative industry, resembled a blind date at which one party did not show.

"There was a real absence of customers," said conference speaker John Brownbill of BAE Systems, Europe's largest defence contractor, summing up the feelings of many delegates.

Britain leads the world in applying PFI to the defence forces but Europe's other big markets - Germany, France, Spain and Italy - are yet to establish a legal framework for the financing policy or to commit to any projects.

A spokesman for European aerospace giant EADS told BBC News Online that PFIs in Europe were "not big money makers" and it would be a long time before any would be offered in the defence sector.

"I don't think we'll be coming back again," said a member of the Canadian delegation.

See also:

04 Dec 01 | Business
Europe shuns defence shake-up show
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