23 April 2019

An interview with MEP Sabine Lösing on defence research and the militarization of the EU

“The European Defence Fund is the end of the civilian nature of the EU budget”

An interview with MEP Sabine Lösing on defence research and the militarization of the EU.

Interview by Iraklis Oikonomou

Many thanks to Ota Jaksch, parliamentary assistant to MEP Lösing.

Sabine Lösing is a member of the European Parliament from Germany (Die Linke), belonging to the GUE/NGL political group. As the Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence, she has extensive expertise on matters of EU defence policy, while also being one of the most critical voices against the channeling of EU funds for the research & development of armaments. In the discussion that follows, Mrs. Lösing explains why the establishment of the European Defence Fund and the broader militarization of the Union should be causes for concern for every citizen.

Does the establishment of the European Defence Fund signal a drive of the EU towards militarization? Is it, in other words, a major paradigm shift?

Absolutely, and for a variety of reasons! First, it is the end of what we could – somewhat idealistically – call the civilian nature of the EU’s budget. Although there have been numerous attempts to use European money for military purposes, up to now, there were by large and huge obstacles to channel funds into the military sector. This will change dramatically with the pending establishment of a European Defence Fund (EDF). Second, this money will be explicitly spent to “consolidate” the European military sector – i.e. to create some sort of European Military-Industrial-Complex. If this effort succeeds, the whole composition of the European project will fundamentally change into a more militaristic way. And third, it is one of the most obvious signs that the Commission tries to play a far greater role in European defence matters in the future. As was said in the “European Defence Action Plan” (EDAP) of November 30, 2016, when the EDP was formally introduced for the first time: “The  Commission  is  ready  to  engage  at  an  unprecedented  level  in  defence  to  support Member  States.  It  will  exploit  the  EU  instruments,  including  EU  funding,  and  the  full potential of the Treaties, towards building a Defence Union”.

Is EDF a reason for concern for you? What are the main risks that you see in this funding of armaments programmes?

It is definitely a reason for concern if billons of euros are channeled into the military sector. Take a look at the European Global Strategy that was endorsed by the Heads of State and Government on June 28, 2016 which defines the interests which shall be enforced with this huge military apparatus in the making. There is talk of “the EU’s interest in an open and fair economic system”, of “ensuring open and protected ocean and sea routes” and of “access to natural resources”. The areas of interest, where the EU could potentially enforce those interests with military means are, according to the EUGS, “to the east stretching into Central Asia, and to the south down to Central Africa”. And to the east it literally goes even further by naming “the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca”.

In order to enforce those interests, the EUGS calls for having top notch military capabilities: “This means having full-spectrum land, air, space and maritime capabilities, including strategic enablers”. And, in the eyes of Europe’s ruling politicians, the way to acquire those capabilities is by the establishment of a European military-industrial-complex via tools like the EDF, but also like CARD and PESCO.

My fear is, that as soon as the EU will have those capabilities, it will deploy soldiers even more than it already does – and it will do so to enforce interests, that are the interests of a privileged few but not of the majority of the society that has nothing to gain from war and militarism, let alone those who suffer under those military interventions.  Because if the wars of the recent past – from Afghanistan, to Iraq and Libya – have shown one thing, then it is that the military is completely unable to “solve” conflicts – quite the opposite.

You have been critical of the legal standing of the initiative. Why? Isn’t there a basis for armaments funding in EU law?

No, there is no basis for using EU funds for armaments – and that is why the Commission had to use a trick. Article 41 of the Lisbon Treaty is very clear. It forbids using the EU-budget for military expenditures, when it states:  “Operating expenditure […] shall also be charged to the Union budget, except for such expenditure arising from operations having military or defence implications […]”.

Now this paragraph relates to the Common Foreign and Security Policy and that’s why the Commission argues that the EDF’s main task is to foster Europe’s competitiveness and that it would be therefore a tool of the EU’s industrial policy. Of course, that is ridiculous: In order to be a tool of Europe’s industrial policy, the EDF’s primary goal would have to be to foster Europe’s competitiveness. Yet it is obvious, that the foremost goal of the EDF is to “improve” Europe’s military capacities, which is something that falls under the prohibitions of Article 41 of the Lisbon Treaty and therefore cannot be funded from the EU budget.

That is also the result of a comprehensive legal opinion the GUE/NGL commissioned which concluded: “In no case does the stated legal basis support the establishment of the EDF.”

From an economic perspective, do you agree with the argument of the Commission that the funding of military R&D is good for jobs and growth?

No, I do not agree. The economic benefits of the military sector are a myth the Commission never gets tired to stress – yet it has only one source, a study written under the aegis of the European Defence Agency, to support this claim. In fact, there exists extensive research supporting the claim, that investing in the military is by far the least productive way concerning job creation or economic growth. Furthermore, the myth of to “spin-offs”, that military innovations somehow beneficially transfer to the civilian sector, has also been debunked in many studies as it is nowadays the military sector using civilian innovations for their products, not the other way around.

As for transparency, how happy are you with the procedures that were followed in order to set up the European Defence Fund?

As it stands now, the parliament is largely sidelined with regards to the EDF. The Commission will adopt the work programme, while the Member States will have a de facto veto power. Therefore, the EP has given up its traditional role in budget programming which tremendously reduces its ability to at least minimally control the budget.

Furthermore, as, for example, the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT) also criticized, the “ethical review” also leaves much to be desired. ENAAT writes: “Ethical screenings will happen only before the signature of the grant contract and on the basis of prior ethical self-assessments by the industry itself; the list of independent experts to assist the EC in evaluation and monitoring tasks will not be made public”.

What has been the role of the European arms industry in the process?

The industry – contrary to other actors like the peace movement or civil liberties groups – is heavily involved in the formulation of Europe’s defence policy. For example, as the study “Securing profits” by Vredesactie pointed out, between 2013 and 2016 there where at least 37 meetings between industry and DG Grow on the Preparatory Action on Defence Research. This lead to the establishment of a “Group of Personalities” by Elżbieta Bieńkowska, commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, in 2015, which was heavily dominated by lobbyists of the armaments sector. This group published its proposals for a European military research programme in February 2016 and its numbers were one-to-one integrated into the Commission’s European Defence Action Plan of November 2016.

The European Parliament has been extremely supportive of this EU militarizing wave. How do you explain this constant pro-armaments position by the EP?

Unfortunately, the majority of the parties and therefore also the composition of the relevant committees are heavily pro-military. Therefore it is very difficult to make ones voice heard which is aggravated by the fact that the media tends to largely ignore critical positions. Furthermore I think that we have an unhealthy combination of the ongoing demonization of Russia, a totally hypocritical debate about supposed European “values” that should be spread and enforced, the continuation of colonial habits and the hole debate about the refugee crisis that contribute to the thinking, that there is an urgent need for comprehensive European military capacities. Unfortunately, this “necessity” is not called into question by the vast majority of my colleagues.

What your opinion about PESCO? Do you see further divisions within the EU taking place as a result of German-French leadership in defence?

I think PESCO has the potential to deepen already existing rifts, as it is the major tool of the self-declared Franco-German leadership group to establish a defence union under their command. To the benefit of Europe’s largest powers, namely Germany and France, PESCO breaks in important parts with the consensus principle in the military area by introducing qualified majority voting. For example, if a country doesn’t fulfill some PESCO-criteria intended to foster the creation of a defence union it is now possible to throw this country out of PESCO via a simple qualified majority vote.

What is, in your opinion, the alternative to the militarizing tendencies of the EU? What is, in other words, your vision for Europe, when it comes to security and defence?

Quite simply? Exactly the opposite! A strict “No” the every form of military “solution” of current conflicts. Comprehensive disarmament and the conversion of the armaments industry with the freed up funds going into poverty reduction, the enlargement of civilian conflict resolution and the creation of civilian jobs within the Union.