MEPs denounce EU funding of Israeli defence firms

An Israeli-made military drone. [Giles Thomas/Flickr]

MEPs have called for tighter controls on European financing of Israeli companies. Lax regulation currently allows weapons manufacturers access to EU funding. EURACTIV France reports

The participation of certain Israeli companies in the EU’s vast research and development programme Horizon 2020 has angered some European lawmakers.

A group of 73 MEPs, largely from the radical left of the European Parliament, addressed a letter to the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the director general of DG Research at the European Commission, Robert Jan Smits, in which they highlighted the weakness of the Horizon 2020 safeguards, which allows companies like Elbit Systems, a defence specialist, to fund their research programmes. The Israeli company upgrades helicopters, fighter planes, and armoured vehicles, and manufactures military drones.

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“Elbit Systems is one of Israel’s biggest military companies and a major producer of drones,” the letter states. Martina Anderson, the Irish MEP behind the initiative, said the European Institutions were “complicit in Israel’s military aggression against the Palestinian people”.

Military aggression

The MEPs cited a study by the organisation Stop the Wall, which detailed six projects approved by the Israeli leadership in February this year, and submitted by Elbit for European funding.

In the EU’s last research programme (2007-2013), “Elbit Systems and Israeli Airspace Industries participated in projects worth €393,600,149, many of which were for the development of drones,” the MEP said.

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The authors of the letter fear that this situation, which they see as a contradiction of the EU’s guiding principles, will arise again under the current research programme. Israel, like Norway and Turkey, is a non-EU member that benefits from the European programme. For a contribution of €600 million, it hopes to receive €900 million in various investments between 2014 and 2020.

“Financing projects with Israeli businesses that participate in the ‘internal security’ affairs of the colonies would risk negating the order given by 20 member states to private companies not to open economic dealings which would benefit the colonies,” Martina Anderson said.


“Israeli participation in the European fund comes on two conditions,” said Hugh Lovatt, an Israel/Palestine analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The European Union cannot provide funding to any entity based in the occupied territories, nor to any entity that carries out its activity in the colonies,” he explained.

Safeguards were strengthened with the establishment of the Horizon 2020 programme, which began in 2014, to prevent companies registered in Tel-Aviv, that carry out their activities in the Occuped Territories, from accessing EU funds.

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These restriction criteria were a major source of tension between the EU and Israel when the partnership agreement was signed. The Israeli government does not distinguish between its territory and its colonies, but the EU does not recognise the occupied lands as Israeli territories.


“But unlike the Americans, the Europeans have not added a third criterion that excludes any company whose activity could benefit the colonies, which would be more restrictive,” Hugh Lovatt said.

As a result, EU research funding can legally be accessed by weapons companies.

This is an important issue for the European Commission, and in its 2014 guidelines it specified that only civilian operations would be eligible for funding from the programme.

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“Several mechanisms have been put in place to prevent European funds from being used for activities that could contravene international law,” the Directorate General for Research told EURACTIV.

EU-Israeli relations

“Brussels should clarify its position on the question of arms,” said Hugh Lovatt. “But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The real question is to what extent EU-Israel relations can be maintained, or even deepened, so long as Israel does not differentiate between its activities either side of the 1967 Green Line,” he added. 

Worth nearly €80 billion over seven years, Horizon 2020 is the European Union's largest ever financial framework for research and innovation. The programme is open to a number of non-EU states, including Norway, Turkey and Israel.

Horizon 2020 is one of the principle pillars of European Union innovation, a flag-ship strategy of "Europe 2020", aimed at reinforcing Europe's competitiveness on the global markets.

If the European Union is the world leader in a number of technologies, it faces growing competition from traditional powers as well as emerging economies. 

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