01 January 2009

"Protect European citizens and the European economy": The European Security Research Programme


“Protect European citizens and the European economy”: The European Security Research Programme

by Iraklis Oikonomou

Published in Studia Diplomatica: The Brussels Journal of International Relations, Vol. 62, No. 1, 2009, pp. 3-16.

In 2005, the European Commission launched an EU-wide programme for advanced security research The ‘Preparatory Action on the Enhancement of the European industrial potential in the field of security research’ (PASR), initiated in February 2004, was accompanied by the European Security Research Programme (ESRP) for the period 2007-2013 as part of the 7th Framework Programme (FP7).[1]Despite its novelty, ESRP has been neglected by the literature, mainly because developments in the field are quite recent. Another reason is the location of the project at the borderline between security and economics. Security research is too economic for strategists and too strategic for economists to fit into their respective research frames.

Therefore, EU security research poses a challenge for the study of European security and defence integration. What are its origins? Why and how did it become a part of the EU policy agenda? What theoretical conclusions can be drawn from it? The first section outlines the institutional and historical background of EU security research, before turning to the analysis of the provisions of PASR and ESRP. Then, the politico-economic significance of the programme is discussed, highlighting the multiple channels through which security purposes translated into politico-economic necessities. Finally, the implications of ESRP for the study of EU security and defence policy are debated. The analysis benefits from a couple of internal documents that the author secured access to, as well as from a series of intervies with EU officials conducted in Brussels.

1.         Background of EU security research

One of the first references to military research coordination appeared in a 2002 European Parliament (EP) resolution that invited the Commission to consider developing an equivalent to the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe in order to pool and coordinate European military research.[2]Although the resolution clearly stated ‘defence’, i.e. military, research, the Commission later misrepresented this resolution as a call for security research to which it ought to respond with action. A ‘bi-ministerial’ team consisting of representatives from DG Relex, DG Enterprise and DG Research was put in charge of the preparation of the programme. The 2002/03 Hellenic Presidency gave a key boost to it. A small number of individuals from the Presidency were extremely active within the European Armaments Policy Council Working Group (POLARM) in advocating the setting-up of a European Defence Research and Technology Programme.[3]According to the Presidency, this would aim at achieving greater return on military R&D investment and at making fuller use of existing scientific talent to the benefit of the EU arms industry.[4] The first task of the programme would be to identify and remedy weaknesses in the EU technology base. Additionally, the establishment of centrally coordinated programmes drawing on the FP was suggested. The Presidency favoured the promotion of technologically advanced dual-use applications together with a closer coordination of national military research programmes.[5]In December 2002, the Hellenic Presidency submitted a Draft Council Joint Action to POLARM on the establishment of a European Union Cooperation Programme for Advanced Security Research and Technology (E.PA.SE.RE.TE).[6]This proposal was later taken over by the Commission to become ESRP. Among member-states, the French government was supportive of the Presidency’s initiative with Germany also following suit.[7]Once the proposal was blocked at the Council by the UK on the grounds that it would add to the Council’s bureaucratic burden, the Presidency suggested that the Commission should do it. The emphasis on security rather than on ‘defence’ ensured that the UK could not turn down this transfer.[8]

E.P.A.SE.RE.TE was presented as being at the crossroads between the requirements of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and EU industrial competitiveness. In the draft joint action, the Headline Goal, the development of a common armaments policy and the Cologne Council conclusions on ESDP were interwoven with the Lisbon and Barcelona Council decisions on EU research and innovation policies.[9]According to the plan of the Presidency, the duration of the Programme was set from 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2007, i.e. it spanned a four-year period, similar to the three-year duration given later to PASR. The E.PA.SE.RE.TE budget proposed by the Presidency was €1.75 billion, a vast sum compared to the €60 (later €45) million that were initially allocated for the PASR programme. This sum amounted to the EC contribution only and corresponded to one third of the planned budget, while the rest was to be provided by the Member States and the arms industry respectively.[10]The term ‘defence industry’ was used in the original draft, demonstrating policy-makers’ awareness that the main beneficiaries of the programme would be arms manufacturers.

The Commission’s response to the Parliament and the Presidency was to propose an advanced security research cooperation programme in the March 2003 Communication on defence equipment.[11]The primary justification of the project was presented in the context of the Petersberg tasks and crisis management rather than internal security. In May 2003, the Competitiveness Council welcomed the Commission’s intention to promote a preparatory action and the following month the Thessaloniki European Council Summit called upon the Commission to proceed with both defence and security-related research.[12]In addition, during the first half of 2003 the Hellenic Presidency actively encouraged the Commission to come forward with a fresh initiative in the field of military research.[13]The coordinated moves to launch a funding programme culminated in February 2004 with a Commission Decision establishing PASR and a Communication detailing the project.

A major thrust for the launching of the ESRP came in March 2004 from the Report by the Group of Personalities in security research (GoP), tasked by the Commission.[14]The fact that it was published after the launch of the PASR in February 2004 does not entail a lack of connection between PASR and the GoP Report, given that the GoP firstly gathered in October 2003 under the auspices of Commissioners Busquin and Liikanen.[15]It can be assumed that the ordering was meant to quell concerns over the striking similarities between the GoP Report and the Commission Communication establishing PASR. These similarities led Tony Bunyan, Director of Statewatch, to wonder: ‘The role of the “Group of Personalities” in the Commission’s Communication is unclear. Did the Commission simply reproduce the “recommendations” of the GoP’s first report?’[16]

The GoP provided an expert-based, technocratic boost to the legitimacy of PASR and a reference point for the budget of the programme, as high as €1 billion annually.[17]The Report identified security threats to the EU along the lines followed by the European Security Strategy (ESS). The Report even used a Eurobarometer table surveying the supposed fears of EU citizens, which was part of the draft security strategy submitted by Solana to the 2003 Thessaloniki Summit.[18]The discussion adopted the exact wording of ESS, identifying the same categories of threats and claiming that these ‘are more diverse, less visible and less predictable than those Europe faced during the Cold War’.[19]The threats appeared to be transnational, not restricted by state borders, supposedly representing the merging of the internal and external dimensions of European security. After framing the threats, the Report highlighted the important technological and industrial potential to be realised from a security research programme. It focused on the dual-use dimension of modern technology and suggested that targeted investment involving all security-related industries such as arms and aerospace, electronics, pharmaceuticals, bio-technology and telecommunications would ‘not only enhance security but also contribute to EU productivity and growth’.[20]The Commission incorporated all GoP recommendations in the 2004 Communication on security research, where the ESRP and the setting-up of the European Security Research Advisory Board (ESRAB) were announced.[21]

The Parliament placed EU security research under its aegis with a 2005 resolution that welcomed the Commission’s proposal and called for the adoption of the €1 billion budgetary target. In addition, it approved the setting-up of ESRAB and emphasised the importance of a competitive defence and security industry.[22]Although there were three committees involved in the consultation process (Foreign Affairs, Industry & Research, and Justice & Home Affairs), the resolution invited the Commission to report only to the first two committees. The marginalisation of the Committee on Justice and Home Affairs was due to its critical evaluation of ESRP that did not fully suit the prevalent pro-industry rhetoric, with calls for the inclusion of civil liberties organisations in ESRAB and for increased transparency.[23]The link between the Commission and the EP positions was underlined by the presence of the parliamentarian Philippe Busquin, the former Commissioner on Research, who drafted the opinion of the Committee on Industry and Research and advocated an increased budgetary allocation and presence of the industry in ESRAB.[24]The result was the formation of a small circle of individuals preparing the ESRP via the Commission while assigning legitimacy to it via the EP.

2.         What is the European Security Research Programme?

The political basis of the Communication establishing the PASR was claimed by the Commission to be the Thessaloniki Presidency Conclusions, despite the absence of any reference to specific funding arrangements or legislative measures in that mandate. Furthermore, the legal basis of the Action was publicly questioned. Critics argued that Art. 157 of the EC Treaty on industrial competitiveness, which formed the legal basis of PASR, should have been substituted by Art. 163(3) on research and technological development.[25]The legal choice allowed the assignment of the management of the project to DG Enterprise, rather than DG Research.

The role of preparatory actions is to generate proposals that may be incorporated in future Community actions.[26]For 2004 and 2005, the budget for PASR was €15 million per year, while the 2006 budget was initially set to €25 million by the Commission.[27]The Council later decreased the sum to €15 million. While not negligible, since the preparatory nature of the program automatically places the budget at the low end of the spectrum, PASR expenditure was lower than the industry would have liked.[28] For each project, the part funded by the Commission was 75% with the remaining 25% funded by the participants, who maintained intellectual property rights. The real value of the action was not imprinted in its budget but in the function of PASR as a training ground for the much more muscled ESRP.

Two kinds of activities fell within the scope of PASR: projects and supporting activities. Projects ran from one to two years and supporting activities ran from six months to three years.[29]Note that two of the assessment criteria for selection referred to economic and competitive advantages rather than to any security-related imperative: reinforcement of the competitiveness of European industry and potential for exploitation, and building of effective partnerships between public users, industry and research.[30]Still, PASR was a mission-oriented programme, i.e. it aimed to fulfil specific priority missions singled out by the Commission. The priority missions for the PASR-2005 programme were the following: optimising the security and protection of networked systems; protecting against terrorism; enhancing crisis management; achieving interoperability and integration of systems for information and communication; and improving situation awareness (in crisis management, anti-terrorism activities, or border control).[31]These remained the same for PASR 2006, although there the Commission specified twelve key activities and invited all stakeholders to focus their proposals on them. However, PASR-2004 had no priority missions whatsoever; the Commission put forward its priorities in PASR-2005, once the industry had articulated its own initial proposals.

ESRP was established in 2007 as part of FP7. In the Commission proposal to the Council, security research was grouped together with space research with a joint budget of €3.96 billion for a seven-year timeframe (2007-2013).[32]The 2004 Commission proposal called for an annual budget of €1 billion with the view of increasing it progressively.[33]The Commission lowered the sum, adapting its proposal to the prevailing mood in the Council against the huge amount originally proposed by the GoP. There were no formal rules to define how the budget would be split between space and security, although the industry had received informal assurances from the Commission that the allocation would be 50% for each area.[34]In the end, the Council separated the two fields and created a separate thematic category named ‘security’.[35]The four core activities of ESRP as proposed by the Commission were: protection against terrorism and crime; security of infrastructures and utilities; border security; and restoring security in case of crisis. Three more themes were identified in order to support the core activities: security systems integration and interoperability; security and society; and security research coordination and structuring.[36]The final allocation for security research in FP7 was €1.4 billion for the 2007-2013 period, or approximately €200 million annually.[37]This was lower than the GoP proposal but high enough to generate interest from all stakeholders.

Initially, the activities funded by ESRP were supposed to be geared towards protecting Member States from transnational threats and assisting ESDP missions.[38]The Commission mentioned the Petersberg tasks as part of the rationale for building up a security research programme.[39]Later, the ESDP dimension was toned down in favour of a homeland-security rationale. Due to the interrelatedness of security and military technological applications, the distinction between homeland security and ESDP purposes is only meaningful at the rhetorical level; ESRP should be viewed as a de factopart of ESDP. Experts repeatedly called for the establishment of a European security and ‘defence’ R&T budget for ESDP purposes.[40]A clear ESDP dimension ran through PASR, culminating in the PASR-2006 key activity on ‘shared information management tools and models to facilitate the efficient integration of diverse emergency and management services for humanitarian operations and rescue tasks in support of the Common Foreign and Security Policy’.[41]Major PASR projects, such as ASTRO+, BS-UAV, CITRINE, GEOCREW, MARIUS and WINTSEC had a clear, ESDP-related technological scope and function. The Joint Research Centre produced a modelling of security missions attached to PASR and ESRP that included the Petersberg Tasks and European crisis management.[42]The Commission proposal for ESRP mentioned crisis management operations as a potential field of its application and invoked the threat perception and proposals put forward by the ESS.[43]Furthermore, EU military leaders regarded access to the findings of the programme as guaranteed, through the cooperation of member states, the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the Commission.[44]

Apart from separating security from space, the Council also agreed upon some notable changes of tone and scope compared with the original Commission proposal for FP7. The improvement of the competitiveness of the European ‘security’ industry became part of the stated objectives of the FP7 security programme.[45]This additional emphasis on the socio-economic priorities of the project was accompanied by a repeated reference to its civil, i.e. non-military nature. The terms ‘civil’ and ‘non-defence’ were added seven times in the text, under intense pressure from member states sceptical of the Commission’s involvement in military affairs, such as the UK.[46]

The integral link between the EDA and ESRP was framed in the name of dual-use technology and the need to coordinate the activities of the two entities.[47]The EDA secured participation in the group of evaluators for the selection of the PASR projects together with evaluators drawn from member states and the Commission. Moreover, it was granted a seat at ESRAB, the advisory body on security research set up by the Commission in order to ‘identify synergies between the defence R&T work of the Agency and the civilian-oriented security research programme.’[48]In at least two areas, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and Software-Defined Radio, the EDA and the Commission developed parallel and complementary research programmes. Therefore, the relationship between the EDA and the Commission was one characterised by a unity of objectives. Both wished to see increased levels of spending for security research that would eventually contribute to the strengthening of the European arms industry’s competitive status. The Commission and the EDA established R&T funding initiatives with similar timeframes and objectives. The fact that the one initiative was community-driven while the other one was intergovernmental does not justify institutionalist preoccupation with the formal structures of the institutions involved. What matters is the politico-economic purpose of the developments, which is the same in both arenas.

3.         The political economy of EU security research

According to official discourse, developing security-related research and technology for the EU was necessary in order to counter the internal and external threats to European security described in the ESS.[49]Rhetorical emphasis on threats and security cannot conceal the socio-economic objectives embedded in the making of ESRP. The Commission suggested that ‘a strong, structured security research programme at a European level is necessary to help protect European citizens and the European economy’.[50]In fact, protecting the long-term competitiveness of the European security industry is the primary objective of EU security research. This was reflected in, among others, the criteria according to which the PASR projects were selected. The second principle of the selection was ‘the stimulation of market conditions and innovative mechanisms to create opportunities for European industry to gain a comparative advantage’.[51]Furthermore, the term ‘security industry’, used repeatedly by the Commission, is a euphemism. Each big arms-producing firm in Europe has its own security division, rendering it practically impossible to distinguish between security and arms industries. ESRP is particularly significant for companies that maintain such security business divisions. The industry that the Commission primarily referred to involves those arms-producing firms that maintain both a military and a civilian (or dual-use) portfolio of activities, such as EADS, Thalles, BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Dassault, Diehl and Rheinmetall. Given that public and EU subsidies cannot be formally given to civil industries, funding programmes such as ESRP may ‘serve as a backdoor conduit for government money to the civil sector’.[52]Next to the arms industry stand sectors tightly knit together, whose operations are dual-use or civil. Such sectors with a big stake in EU security research include information technology, materials technology, telecommunications and transport among others.[53]

This interrelatedness of military and civil productive capital does not alter the military focus of ESRP. The very concept of ‘security research’ is a politically correct synonym for research at the borderline between ‘security’ and ‘defence. In most cases, security research cannot be meaningfully distinguished from research that has a military scope, and ESRP is an integral part of EU military and security research.[54]In practice, what distinguishes security from military research in the EU is budgetary control. In the words of Nick Witney, former Chief Executive of the EDA, ‘the fundamental difference is really who controls the money – in the case of defence research, national defence ministries, in the case of security research other national authorities and now, too, the Commission’.[55]No other actual distinction can be put forward. In terms of purpose, both bodies of research benefit military corporations and the repressive mechanisms of the state in the first place. Technologically, the wall separating the two areas is replete with cracks.[56]For example, there is no major difference between UAVs developed for border control and UAVs developed for battlefield monitoring.

The expansion of arms industries in civilian and quasi-civilian applications of military technology was one of the strategies pursued in order to stay competitive in the face of declining military budgets.[57]The unity of civil and military technological applications, a commonplace for the aerospace industry, increasingly dominated the arms industry as a whole. As the Commission-led STAR 21 Report stated, ‘The wellbeing of the industry depends on the twin pillars, civil and defence. They are complementary to each other but mutually dependent’.[58]This dependence secures product diversification, economies of scale and the enhancement of the scientific and technological basis of firms. For the arms-industrial sector, characterised by extremely high fixed costs, the strengthening of the links between civil and military applications is necessary.

In addition, projects such as the ESRP have ‘structural’ benefits for the whole EU as a capitalist economic unit in a fiercely competitive, internationalised economic system. Next to the arms industry, ESRP ensured the involvement of numerous other industrial sectors that may benefit from security-related applications, such as the pharmaceutical, chemical, telecommunications and information technology industries.[59]Increasing cooperation between the arms industry and other sectors, especially IT leaders such as Siemens and Ericsson, was an embedded aim of the programme. Additional investment in security and military research is expected to foster the generation of new technological capabilities. The former Commissioner for Enterprise and Information Society argued that ‘the defence industry acts as a catalyst for growth and innovation in other industries ranging from high-tech, such as aerospace and IT, to more traditional industries such as steel and shipbuilding’.[60] The aim was the promotion of the international competitiveness of European capital in general, and especially of its fractions engaged in technologically specialised and R&D-intensive activities.

The transatlantic dimension of ESRP is critical for the programme’s scope and function. Competition between European and American companies and the vast disparity between the EU and the US armaments and homeland security markets set the scene for the presentation of ESRP as a tool that ought to compete with US security spending. The advocacy of the idea that the EU should follow the US in terms of security spending was fierce and uncritical. The GoP Report suggested that the EU investment on security research should try to match that of the US, due to the similarity of the threats facing both societies and to the difficulties surrounding the border protection in the enlarged EU.[61]The competitive status of the European arms manufacturers has been undermined by the vast disparity in internal security funding between the EU and the US. For the period 2006-2015, the EU is expected to spend one third of what the US will spend on homeland security; the share of EU expenditure in global homeland security expenditure is 17%, while the share of US expenditure is 52%.[62]This played prominently in public discourse and industrial thinking.[63]The implications of this disparity for the European arms industry are far-reaching. By taking the lead in funding, the US arms industry gets closer to developing and sustaining a technological lead in the relatively novel area of security applications. Such a lead could allow the US to establish its own preferred standards on security equipment outside its territorial confines. Acknowledging this possibility, the GoP report suggests that ‘For critical technologies, Europe should aim for an indigenous competitive capability, even if this involves duplication of effort’.[64]

4.         Implications for the study of European integration

The article began by highlighting the core episodes in the formation of the EU security research programme. It then turned to the provisions of both PASR and ESRP, emphasising the interlinking of economic and security imperatives. The politico-economic significance of the programme was analysed in detail, illuminating both the instrumental effects of military-industrial interests and the structural benefits of European capitalism as a whole. Three concluding claims stem from this research note: a) security research has significant politico-economic implications for military-industrial actors in the EU; b) EU institutions have demonstrated a remarkable unity of purpose in promoting this programme irrespective of their institutional form; and c) the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) acted as a discursive source of legitimacy for the promotion of this project.

Contrary to realist and liberal intergovermentalist approaches, the distinction between high and low politics is, in the case of ESRP, undermined by the intermeshing of economic-industrial interests, bureaucratic policy-making and security objectives. In addition, given the dominant role of the Commission in the process of the making of ESRP, the view of states as the only significant actors in the making of EU security policy is not valid. The Commission enjoyed a strong level of influence over Member States on research issues. This was backed by a special partnership between the industry and DG Enterprise in which both developed informal links and channels for the exchange of ideas. Overall, the EU security research programme demonstrates the politico-economic significance of seemingly strategic projects that serve a supposedly objective set of EU security interests. Security research is geared towards protecting the European economy at least as much as the European citizens.

In addition, the case of ESRP highlights the extent to which ESDP was utilised by all relevant institutional actors, including the European arms industry, in order to legitimise and accelerate the development of EU armaments policy. The emergence of ESDP opened up a policy space that the dominant social forces occupied rapidly in order to further their own pressing interests. The Commission was adaptive to the emerging discourse, scope and priorities of ESDP, incorporating them efficiently into ESRP. In addition, the Commission utilised the need of industry for more funding as a source of support for an initiative that ultimately had to be sold to EU member-states. EU security research demonstrates that, no matter whether the internal and external dimensions of security have merged objectively, they have de facto been merged rhetorically in order to smooth the way for EU military-industrial reform. The merging of the two dimensions of security has real, tangible consequences, even if it is not real as such. This merging channels the elements of urgency and threat perception that stem from the international realm into the domestic mechanisms of capitalist reproduction. Direct, ESRP-like funding is the most open and obvious way to support an industry and this development follows clearly the demands placed by the internationalised military-industrial capital. While the decision to proceed with such a programme was political, its results were socio-economic, benefiting the European arms industry and extending its synergies.

Finally, ESRP is a textbook case of the unity of purpose and action connecting intergovernmental and supranational institutions in the EU. The R&T efforts of the EDA and ESRP can be legitimately viewed as complementary. The group of individuals that masterminded the ESRP and the EDA was roughly the same, supported by the Hellenic Presidency. Security research as a project was given to the Commission by the Presidency when the UK objected to it being carried out by the Council. The EDA secured its presence in the post-PASR institutional arrangements and had a say in the future orientation of the ESRP through its membership of ESRAB. The synergies between the Commission and the EDA were all too visible, translating into a unity of actual policy-making practice. Such a unity was mediated by state authority and its diverging traditions and ‘national’, i.e. politico-economic interests, without however concealing the profound connections between industrial and political actors at the EU level.

To sum up, EU security research is indeed a theoretically and empirically novel and challenging development. For the first time in the history of the EU, the Commission has entered the world of defence-related research. At the same time, the European arms industry has now set foot in a vast pool of economic resources as part of FP7 that were previously unavailable to arms manufacturers. The making of the EU security research programme is a textbook case of the multiple ways through which the quest for European security and defence autonomy has impacted on the politico-economic essence of European integration. The potential militarisation of scientific research is a prospect that deserves attention from students of the EU and European citizens alike.

References available in print version only.