Europe still sore about tanker bid

Associated Press

PARIS — The leaders of France and Germany said Tuesday they have concerns about the United States’ handling of a $35 billion contract for an Air Force refueling tanker, cautioning U.S. authorities against “the temptations of protectionism.”

A European-led consortium pulled out of bidding last week for the contract, saying the Pentagon was favoring rival American bidder Boeing Co.

In a statement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “trans-Atlantic economic relations must be based on open markets and fair competition, and reject the temptations of protectionism, including in the field of defense.”

The statement, released by the French presidency, said Sarkozy, Merkel and European Union partners will study the “implications of future developments in the affair.”

Last week, the French and British leaders accused the U.S. of protectionism regarding the contract. Merkel has not spoken about it before, though German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle said the situation showed “signs of protectionism.”

Sarkozy is expected to raise concerns that the contract is anticompetitive when he visits President Barack Obama later this month, his office has said.

The withdrawal of a bid by EADS, the parent company of Airbus, and Northrop Grumman, leaves Chicago-based Boeing as the only bidder for the 179-tanker order.

The EADS-led consortium was awarded a contract for the tanker fleet in 2008, but Boeing protested and the deal was annulled later that year.