EU should give more funds to peace, not subsidise the arms industry

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An 'Ad-Busting' poster from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade on the London Underground. [CAAT/Flickr]

Subsidising the arms industry is not the way the once-peace EU project will improve its popularity with eurosceptic citizens. Instead, the EU should invest in jobs and research projects which contribute to the prevention of conflicts, says Laetitia Sedou.

Laetitia Sedou is the Programme Officer of the European Network Against Arms Trade, which united campaign and research groups from 13 European countries, as well as several international organisations.

The EU should invest in jobs and research projects which contribute to the prevention of conflicts.

After several years of persistent and discreet work, in particular from arms industry lobby groups such as ASD, and with the support of some Member States and MEPs, the EU is only a few steps away from starting to subsidise research for arms production using European public money.

A Preparatory Action (PA) on Defence research written by an advisory ‘Group of Personalities’, more than half of them industry representatives, is included in the 2017 draft Budget. The arms industry is advising the EU to subsidise the arms industry.  And this is just the beginning, as their long-term objective is to set-up a fully-fledged European Defence Research Programme worth of  €3.5 billion over 2021-2027.  Such project raises a good number of concerns for civil society organisations beyond ENAAT members:

So far, the EU never funded arms production because it was considered more as part of Member States’ defence policy falling under national sovereignty than a traditional economic activity.

One possible impact of the Brexit could be unexpected progress in the European defence policy, according to some experts.  However, if voices may have been liberated, concrete progress towards a common policy framework will still take many months and even years.

The Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy, presented in June, first needs to be translated into “sub-strategies” and fully endorsed by member states, which may be the most difficult part.

While the relevance of having a common European Defence policy is a matter of discussion, the reality is that in the meantime very concrete proposals in the field of military co-operation are taking shape under the disguise of promoting growth and jobs. This is a fundamental shift of the EU from a civilian peace-oriented project to a military-led one; an issue even legally questioned by some MEPs on the basis of the EU treaties.

Also problematic is that the decision-making process around this is far from being transparent and democratic: it is over-influenced by the arms and research-oriented industry who have been the only advisers of the Commission through the Group of Personalities (GoP), but also the main interlocutors of the EP.  Indeed the latter paid for a study by two so-called independent experts who are in fact closely related to the industry (one of them being also part of the GoP), while not even inviting alternative critical voices to the debate.

The MEPs and the member states are asked to vote what is merely a blank cheque to the industry, as the European Commission will not give any details about how the money will be concretely used before the end of the budgetary procedure. Moreover the Commission assessment of pilot projects and preparatory actions, which should be the main reference for evaluating the added-value of the Preparatory Action was not yet published when Parliament committees had to start voting on this Preparatory Action. To that end, the Pilot Project on CSDP-related research, which was supposed to be the testing predecessor of the proposed PA, has hardly started in March 2016 despite being voted in December 2014, and the funds have still not been allocated.

Last but not least, for the time being the only concrete proposals about how the money should be used are coming from the Group of Personalities again.  And these proposals are highly problematic with regards to many fundamental points: financing of over 125% of eligible costs, intellectual property rights held by the industry, domination by the industry and the Member States in the definition of priorities and governance modalities; in short the GoP proposals set the most favourable conditions ever granted to beneficiaries in similar programmes.  One can worry about the (lack of) space for common public interest in such a Preparatory Action if the Commission was to follow even part of those recommendations.

Financing military-related research with EU public money is only serving the short-term interests and profitability of a sector which does not even “play the game” when using tax avoidance routes while their clients are mainly national states paying them with public money, as a report from Stop Wapenhandel illustrates.

It would make much more sense to use these resources in areas that can generate at least as much growth and jobs while responding to major challenges that are root-causes of many conflicts, like climate change. For example, a CAAT report shows that it is possible to reconvert and develop employment from the military sector to the renewable energies.

Supporters of the Preparatory Action and future Defence Research programme also argue that EU Member States have taken commitments at NATO level to dedicate 2% of their GDP to military expenditure (of which 20% should go to investments).

But why use the -already tight- EU budget for this? Of course, it would avoid member states having to assume the consequences of such decisions in front of their citizens… but it would go at the cost of projects from which citizens, not industry, could profit.

It is time for the EU to show itself a real peace project and seriously promote alternative ways of peace-building.  If not, it is to be feared that Ban-Ki-Moon’s statement remains true for long: “the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded”.  We are not sure this is what citizens expect from the EU leaders.

Further Reading

German public 'misled' on weapon exports

Germany recently released its report on arms exports, which showed that sales have nearly doubled, despite promises to scale back the number and value of weapons being sent abroad. EURACTIV Germany reports.