This week the European Parliament will be debating the general EU budget for 2017/18. The main focus of the debate is likely to be the knock-on impacts ofBrexit and the falling pound, infrastructure, migration and the many other major challenges facing the continent.
Understandably, a lot of significant items are likely to be overlooked, including a crucial point, that could see the EU taking steps towards adopting an institutional military-industrial strategy. Buried within the budget is the EU’s first proposed Preparatory Action for defence research.
If the budget is agreed, this would effectively be a trial-run that would see the European Parliament subsidising military research for the first time. It would represent an important precedent. At present, the European Commission finances exclusively civilian or dual-use R&D through its €80 billion Horizon 2020 programme.
The proposal, would cover the period of 2017-2020 at the estimated cost of€50-100 million – paving the way for a full research programme that theEuropean Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), which made the proposal in the first place, estimates would cost at least €3.5 billion between 2021-2027.
Arms trade influence over decision making
Right from the start, the process has been influenced by those with a vested interest. The group that put the EUISS report together included high level representation from some of the biggest arms companies in the world. In fact, the majority of those on the Group of Personalities that the EUISS appointed to develop proposals are from the arms trade, so the pro-military conclusion is not particularly surprising.
In effect the arms industry has been brought in to advise the EU on military strategy and reached the conclusion that what is needed is more military spending.
Needless to say, arms companies already benefit from huge amount of public money. A lot of arms company R&D is already funded by member states. Supporters of the change have made clear that they do not foresee any parallel reduction of national budgets for military research, with manyn Member States still bound by their NATO commitments.
There is an international dimension to it too. The ADS, a trade body for arms companies, is clear about its motivations for supporting the proposal, which it says is focused on trying to “maintain and improve long-term competitiveness in the European Defence Industry.”
No explanation is provided for where the money would come from. Would it mean cutting 3.5bn EUR from other budgets? What would be cut in order to fund it? There is also very little explanation of how it will be spent or what checks-and-balances will be in place to stop it from becoming a blank-cheque for arms companies.
What kind of Europe do we want?
There is no question that security is a major challenge and that the EU has a critical role to play in addressing it. However, threats to security are multi-faceted and the solutions that the EU proposes to address them must be clearly based on the Treaties and core values of the EU.
The EU was envisaged as a peace project. The European Parliament stood up for those values this February, when it voted to support an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia due to its devastating bombardment of Yemen. Many of the weapons being used in the destruction are made in Europe, with many being manufactured by the same companies that would benefit from the proposed subsidy.
The EU should be investing in jobs and research projects that promote sustainable industries and contribute to the prevention of conflicts. This proposal could mean taking funds from other projects for something that would only benefit those that profit from war and conflict.
In a busy news agenda, the change may not be generating the headlines that the precedent deserves, but it is getting grass-roots opposition, with over 62,000 people having signed a European Network Against Arms Trade petition to oppose the spending.
Underpinning the opposition is the broader question of what kind of Europe we want. Do we want a social Europe that invests in people and peace, or do we want one that focuses on arms, militarism and war?
As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has said ‘the World is over-armed and peace is under-funded.’ The EU could play a big role in changing this, but right now it risks doing the exact opposite.
European Union member states could soon be spending billions of pounds on military research if funding is agreed this week for a multi-million pound project, Preparatory Action for Defence Research.
The scheme, which will cover the years 2017-2020, at an estimated cost of €50-100 million, would pave the way for a full research programme that could require a budget of at least €3.5bn between 2021 and 2027.
But the proposal is hugely controversial. More than 60,000 people have signed a petition against it. Laëtitia Sédou, EU programme officer at the European Network Against Arms Trade, said it was being pushed by vested interests without proper oversight and debate. “This proposal is merely a military-industrial policy driven by economic interests of a few, a trend towards liberalisation of the arms trade and competition with the US,” she said.
If the budget is approved, it would be the first time the EU has provided funding exclusively for defence research purposes.
“The EU was envisaged as a peace project and that’s what it should be,” said Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade. “Whatever your views on the UK’s role in Europe, it should not be using public money to fund research for arms companies. This proposal could mean taking funds from other projects for something that would only benefit arms companies.”
Some EU member states believe a common defence research fund is long overdue because Europe is lagging behind other major powers.
A document outlining the proposal claims that “cooperative defence research programmes are essential for sustaining and fostering key military capabilities in Europe, and for addressing capability shortfalls”.
A document from the European Union Institute for Security Studies – an organisation funded by some of the world’s biggest arms companies – makes the case for further spending on defence research capabilities.
It states: “Europe’s ongoing economic and fiscal crisis has clearly had a negative impact on the resources available to EU member states to engage in security-related activities. At the same time, threats have become more ‘hybrid’, less conventional, and very difficult to tackle with traditional means and without international cooperation. For its part, the US strategic ‘pivot’ to Asia forces Europeans to take defence more seriously.”