Military industry fund could encourage development and export of controversial weaponry

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

A member of the German military stands next to an airborne reconnaissance drone for close area imaging during the GETEX anti-terror-exercise in Murnau, Germany, 9 March 2017. [EPA/CHRISTIAN BRUNA]

The EU is about to agree a shared military industry fund which will give billions to arms companies and exacerbate the global arms race. Presented as a key step to strengthen the EU and regain citizens’ trust, instead, it enshrines renewed prevalence of national interests in a hard-security context, writes Laëtitia Sédou.

Laëtitia Sédou is the programme officer of the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT), which unites campaign and research groups from 13 European countries, as well as several international organisations.

On 22 May, the EU Parliament, Commission and member states reached a compromise on the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP, the second and biggest pillar of the EU Defence Fund, which will finance the development of new weaponry in 2019 and 2020) after 3 months of negotiations behind closed doors. This compromise still needs to be approved by our MEPs and national governments within the coming weeks.

European Parliament gives up most of its key demands

The result of this ‘trilogue’ speaks for itself: the European Parliament (EP) lost most of its key demands, including the ones that may have limited the most detrimental effects of this programme:

The EP asked for the €500 million budget to come from unallocated margins so as not to affect ongoing programmes, allegedly a red line for the Parliament. However, its negotiators ultimately accepted that 60% (€300 million) would be diverted from existing civilian programmes.

Knowing that the initial proposal was 75% diversion, this is far from a “success” and further discredits the EP in future negotiations on the next long-term budget, which foresees a disproportionate €13 billion for the Defence Fund.

The EP negotiators also accepted that the Commission implements the programme without consulting the Parliament on concrete elements like the detailed priorities to be funded, contrary to usual practice in EU funding schemes.

This is particularity problematic because the EDIDP is a pilot programme with no precedent, and the draft Regulation is unclear on the type of industrial developments that will be funded, apart from 3 vague and wide-ranging topics (mobility and energy protection, communications and intelligence, engagement and combat capabilities).

Thus nobody really knows what type of weaponry will be developed with those €500 million coming from taxpayers’ money… Except maybe the military industry, which is over-influencing the Commission on those developments, and the member states who managed a de facto veto power within the traditional Programme Committee, under an unprecedented move compared to usual EU practices.

How the arms industry is staging a European coup

The EU is increasingly taking a pro-military stance, as the arms lobby exercises more influence. The election of Antoni Tajani last week as European Parliament president means the arms industry’s influence will grow further in the coming years, warns Bram Vranken.

A programme feeding the global arms race, including on armed drones and autonomous weapons development

So how can we assert that arms exports and autonomous weapons development are the main dangers of the Defence Fund? Several elements clearly point to this:

Progressives MEPs had won amendments for a clear exclusion of activities related to a list of banned or controversial weapons, including the development of fully autonomous weapons. Unfortunately, in order to get a deal at all costs, those amendments were watered down by the EP negotiators to a point where they have become meaningless.

And member states’ fierce resistance against any clear and legally binding exclusion of controversial technologies like fully autonomous weapons is a worrying indicator that they want to be able to develop all kinds of military technology out of ethical considerations, in order to reach and maintain EU technological superiority over potential ‘enemies’ or competitors.

Such “strategic autonomy” is indeed one of the main objectives of the EU Defence Fund.

Already, key countries such as France and Germany publicly stated that the development of ‘ready-to-arm’ if not already armed drones, like the MALE Eurodrone programme, should be among the first projects to be funded under the European Defence Fund from 2021.

And the ongoing Preparatory Action on Defence Research (PADR, focusing on basic research, the first pillar of the Defence Fund) currently dedicates a third of its €90 million budget to a project for maritime surveillance through unmanned surface and underwater systems (Ocean 2020).

Regarding exports, one the EDIDP main objectives is the global competitiveness of the arms industry, and “a positive effect on exports” is an expected result. Knowing that fragmented national markets are already too small to absorb European over-production and provide higher profitability, the arms industry will put an even greater emphasis on exports.

To add on, member states want to protect their national military industry, leading to the introduction of financial incentives for SMEs and Mid-Caps in the EDIDP, as a way to reassure smaller countries. Rather than rationalising the industry to resolve over-capacity, the Defence Fund will sustain non-competitive companies through subsidies.

To sum up, new and advanced EU-funded military technology could be freely used by member states according to their geostrategic interests, and exported according to their own -disparate- arms exports policies, thus leading to a never-ending cycle of military developments needing further subsidies.

2200% budget increase in the next long-term budget for military priorities

On 2 May, the Commission presented its draft proposal for the next long-term budget to run from 2021 to 2027:

Two out the six headings would be devoted to police, security and defence activities: one for ‘Migration and borders’ and one for ‘Defence and Security’, integrating the Defence Fund. Moreover, the major budget increments would go to those two headings (together totalling €55 billion), with an astonishing 2,200% jump for the Defence Fund from €0.59 billion to €13 billion to be provided to the military industry.

But also a 180% jump for security and a 260% increase for migration and borders.

Moreover, the security and defence sector is now mainstreamed and often a priority within several civilian programmes with important increase too, such as Erasmus + and the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.

The latter has an important – yet civilian – focus on cutting-edge technologies and artificial intelligence as well as significant funding dedicated to research in the security area, mainly benefiting the industry.

The current Preparatory Action and the coming Defence Industrial Development Programme give a clear indication of what the full-blown European Defence Fund will look like and aim at in the next EU long-term budget.

Both its controversial technological priorities and its governance model opening the door for member states to dig into the EU pot for short-sighted national interests, in a context of the security-oriented long-term budget, provide a quite worrying image of the EU to come, and raise a fundamental question:

Is that really what citizens are expecting from their leaders?

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