Support for arms industry will not make the world a safer place

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Critics fear the European Defence Fund will boost arms exports to repressive regimes. [greensefa/Flickr]

The proposal by the European Commission for a European Defence Fund signifies an unprecedented acceleration in the militarisation of the European Union. The only one who stands to benefit is the arms industry – and its capacity to export. It is time the European Parliament wakes up and stops any further attempts to support the arms industry, writes Bram Vranken.

Bram Vranken is campaigner and researcher with the Belgian peace organisation Vredesactie.

In total the Commission wants to spend €40bn on research, development and procurement of new arms over a ten-year period. In the coming months, the European Parliament and member states will be discussing the establishment of the fund.

The defence industry has played a crucial role in pushing for a European Defence Fund, shows a report published in October. Some proposals made by the European Commission were almost literally copied from recommendations made by the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association (ASD), the most important EU lobby organisation of the arms industry.

Disclosed EU documents show how the arms industry had access to every stage of the decision making process through a myriad of working groups, lobby conferences and arms fairs. Barely any independent voices were represented during these meetings, let alone any critical voices such as peace groups or human rights organisations.

The objective of the European Defence Fund is clear: sustaining the competitiveness of the arms industry. The European Commissioner for industry, Elżbieta Bieńkowska reacted almost jubilantly when the fund was announced. She immediately tweeted: “Good news for defence industry: new European Defence Fund before the end of the year”.

Arms exports controls: “excessive regulation”

Increasing the competitiveness of the arms industry is about increasing its capacity to export. During the period 2012-2016, EU member states were the second largest arms supplier in the world (26%). EU member states have a long history of arms sales to authoritarian regimes. Out of 51 authoritarian regimes on the Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index, 43 were able to buy weapons from European governments in 2015.

Increasing arms exports seems to be exactly the goal of the European Commission. In its plans for a European Defence Fund, the Commission has outlined that the Fund is expected to have a “positive effect on exports”.

Already the EU has started developing controversial weapons such as drones and autonomous weapons through the Pilot Project and the Preparatory Action, two test programmes that form part of the Defence Fund. Although financed with public money, the property rights of these controversial technologies will go to the arms companies involved. These companies can then freely export these military technologies to conflict areas.

EU takes step towards closer defence cooperation

The EU took a major step towards building closer defence ties on Monday (13 November), with 23 member states signing a landmark agreement, promoted by France and Germany, to fund and boost cooperation following Britain’s decision to leave the bloc.

The European Defence Fund risks increasing arms exports to conflict zones. Rather than a tool for improving security, the fund is an industrial stimulus fund for the major European arms-multinationals, located in only a few European countries. The only one who stands to benefit is the arms industry.

This is not the Europe that European citizens want. According to a 2016 opinion poll by Pew Research Center most Europeans are opposed to increased military expenditure. Similarly, in 2017 an alliance of civil society organisations called on the EU to “invest in jobs and research projects which contribute to the peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts rather than to subsidise research for arms production”.

The European Union is at a critical juncture between furthering the interests of the military-industrial complex or building a safer Europe based on democratic participation. It is now that the European Parliament has to take a stand.