How the arms industry is hijacking EU policy

A new report “Securing Profits: How the arms lobby is hijacking Europe’s defence policy by Bram Vranken of the Flemish peace organisation Vredesactie documents the symbiotic relationship between arms industry lobby and the European Union.

Person wearing tie with pictures of weaponry in EU colours
Photo: Vrredesactie

In 2016 the European Union took the unprecedented step of setting up a military research programme worth 90 million euros, the so-called Preparatory Action on Defence Research (PADR). This is only a first step. For the next ten years, the European Commission proposes the establishment of a European Defence Fund which would allocate more than 40 billion euros to the research, development and procurement of weapons.

These steps signify a fundamental change to the European project. Although arms companies have received EU funding before, this has always happened through the ‘back door’ by way of a security research programme. The establishment of a EU military research programme points towards an unprecedented acceleration in the militarisation of the EU.

Over the last couple of years, the arms industry has geared up its lobbying activities to push for a European military research programme. The combined lobbying budget of the top ten of the European arms companies doubled during the last five years, from 2.8 million euros to 5.6 million euros a year. This is an underestimate. According to data from the Belgian national bank the arms lobbying organisation ASD underreported its lobbying budget by a factor of ten. Moreover, since 2014 the European Commission has had at least 46 meetings with the arms industry to discuss the PADR. The sheer number of meetings indicates an almost symbiotic relationship which has gone much further than what would be expected of a normal ‘dialogue’ with stakeholders.

Militarising the European budget

Disclosed EU documents show the decision making process of the PADR was heavily dominated by corporate interests. Beginning with the Group of Personalities, which set out the agenda for a EU military research programme, the content of the PADR was almost exclusively decided on by the European Commission, the European Defence Agency, Member States and the arms industry. Neither Civil society nor the European Parliament were allowed any substantive input into these far reaching decisions.

In November 2016 the European Commission published a European Defence Action Plan in which it proposed to establish a European Defence Fund. Many of the policy proposals in the Defence Action Plan were almost literally copied from proposals made by the arms industry.

Shaping future wars

The military technologies developed now, shape the wars of the future. The EU has already started developing autonomous systems through the PADR and its pilot project. Despite warnings from both the scientific community and the European Parliament, these decisions to develop autonomous weapons are taken without any public debate. The EU risks exacerbating a global arms race in robotic weapons and drones.

Similarly, other policy areas such as border management and development cooperation have become increasingly militarised. Drones and surveillance equipment are already being used by the EU to stop migration. This creates the cynical situation in which the arms industry cashes in twice: selling weapons to conflict areas and making money out of stopping refugees fleeing these same conflicts.

The EU is now at a critical juncture. It has to chose between furthering the interests of the military-industrial complex or building a safer Europe based on democratic participation.

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