MEPs concerned with peace should worry about the new ‘Defence Industry & Space’ unit

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

At Commissioner-designate Syvie Goulard’s hearing on Wednesday, MEPs should question the over-influence of the arms industry and the impact of the new DG for “Defence Industry & Space” on peace, says Laëtitia Sédou. [EPA/BERTRAND GUAY]

At Commissioner-designate Syvie Goulard’s hearing on Wednesday, MEPs should question the over-influence of the arms industry and the impact of the new DG for “Defence Industry & Space” on peace, says Laëtitia Sédou.

Laëtitia Sédou is EU programme Officer at the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT)

On 2 October, the European Parliament committee for Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) will hear the French Commissioner-designate Sylvie Goulard, whose Internal Market portfolio will include a new Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space. Her nomination already faces controversy because of allegations of possible misuse of EU funds when she was an MEP. Without denying the seriousness of such allegations, there are more problematic issues ITRE members should be worried about.

To start with, the creation of a DG for the Defence Industry will open the door even wider for corporate interests of the arms industry to dominate the EU agenda. The arms industry has long been calling for such a DG to be created, and the recent set-up of an EU Defence Fund was heavily influenced by it.

The case of the Group of Personalities (GoP) speaks for itself: it was set-up by the Industry Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska in 2015 and 9 of its 16 members represented private interests (arms companies, research centres and EADS). The European Defence Action Plan presented by the Commission in November 2016 was largely about integrating the recommendations of this GoP, in particular about dedicated EU funds for military research and development.

Today, all but one of the arms companies and research centres that were part of the GoP are participating in projects under the Preparatory Action for Defence Research (a pilot project of the Defence Fund to run from 2017 to 2019) and as such receiving 40% of its allocated budget.

ITRE members should worry that this new DG will largely be dedicated to provide public subsidies to the defence and space sector: adding more public money to 27 sets of national military spending that collectively already rank second in the world – and are still increasing –  will not make EU countries give up their national champions nor end duplication. It does not make this spending any more ‘efficient’.

And because of rules accepted by the previous Parliament, ITRE members are deprived of their normal oversight and control over the use of the Defence Fund until 2027: they should ask Goulard if this is part of the “special partnership with the European Parliament” described in her Mission letter. They should also worry about such a Pandora’s Box that allows Member States to dig into the EU pot without having to accept the normal community rules and parliamentary control: a similar derogation has already been proposed under a civilian programme, the (Connecting Europe Facility).

Another major concern is that the development and production of weapons is now considered a normal business and even prioritised in a wide range of EU policies: not only will the EU Defence Fund add €13 billion to national military spending between 2021 and 2027 (more than  EU humanitarian aid spending), but the Commission has also opened a large number of civilian funding programmes to arms companies as part of its industrial policy: from Regional, Social and Cohesion Funds to the COSME programme supporting SMEs and even Erasmus +, in order to help arms companies attract highly skilled workers and up-skill employees.

There is no need to say that the development of the next generation of weaponry, integrating artificial intelligence and digital technologies, and the militarisation of space also rank high in funding opportunities. Not only will Defence and Space will be grouped under a single Directorate, but the Mission letter to Goulard is crystal clear: she is expressly tasked to “improve the crucial link between space and defence and security”.

Knowing that the European arms industry is heavily dependent on exports and that about 40% of the licences granted by EU Member States are given to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and knowing the poor implementation of the EU Common Position on arms exports whose recent review completely failed to address disparate Member States practices and problematic exports to countries involved in conflicts or severe internal repression, like Saudi-Arabia or Egypt, ITRE members should be concerned that the EU will contribute to exacerbating the global arms race and become a threat to peace, rather than facilitate diplomacy and dialogue or prioritise the root-causes of conflicts.

But what is this all for? This policy aims at answering perceived military needs, both in terms of military industrial base and supply chain, and in terms of military capabilities. It also aims at adapting infrastructures (an Action Plan on Military Mobility should dedicate €6.5 billion to facilitate the cross-border movements of troops and military equipment) amid a general rhetoric of fear, security threats and about an ‘existential need’ for EU hard power and for an ‘EU that protects and defends’.

MEPs should all the more be alarmed that the EU is engaged in an ideological, political, industrial and material preparation for war, whatever form conflicts will take in the future; in other words it is undergoing a rampant but characterised militarisation process (something more complex than whether or not to have an ‘EU army’). Elected representatives should ask themselves and Sylvie Goulard if this is really what EU citizens are expecting from the EU.

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