08 June 2019

An interview with Laetitia Sédou on the European Defence Fund


“The EU Defence Fund is a threat to peace and security”
An interview with Laetitia Sédou, EU Programme Officer at the European Network Against Arms Trade

by Iraklis Oikonomou

(Originally published in Greek on, 7 May 2019)

What exactly is ENAAT?
The European Network Against Arms Trade is an informal network of individuals and peace associations who see the arms trade as a threat to peace, security and development, and the arms industry as a driving force behind increasing arms trade. It was founded in 1984 at an international conference on arms production and military exports in the Netherlands. The network ran several common campaigns, such as Stop Arming Indonesia and a campaign against the use of Export Credits for military goods. At present, ENAAT runs the NoEUmoney4arms campaign.
And why do you regard arms trade as a threat to global peace and security?
The arms business has a devastating impact on human rights and security, and damages economic development. First because of the well-known security dilemma, when a country A arms itself considering country B as a threat, which in turns arms itself because it perceives country A as threat, etc. Such arms races have regularly led to armed conflicts over history.
Second, human and financial resources are finite and those that are put in military spending, in particular in producing or buying weapons and military equipment, are not put into civilian and peaceful priorities. Such military investments then need to be justified and favour the use of force and security approaches to resolve problems. Large scale military procurement and arms exports reinforce a militaristic approach to international problems. Although European governments claim not to export arms to countries at war or those violating human rights, European arms are sold all over the world with very few restrictions. European weapons are often exported to dictatorships or to countries at war. European weapons were used against civilian populations in the Middle East and North Africa during the uprisings from 2011. They turn up in civil wars all around the world.  And the dramatic case of Yemen today shows that there are no limits to the arms business.
ENAAT’s current campaign, NoEUmoney4arms, is targeting the newly founded European Defence Fund and the inclusion of military R&D in the EU budget. Could you give us some basic details and figures of the programme?
On Thursday 17 April 2019, a majority of Euro-parliamentarians endorsed the creation of a European Defence Fund in the next EU budgetary cycle, to run from 2021 to 2027. However EU funding for the research and development (R&D) of new or “enhanced” weapons and military technology (everything prior to the production phase), already started under pilot programmes, the so-called Preparatory Action for Defence Research (PADR) and the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP). In total this two funding schemes already divert €590 million from the current EU budget between 2017 and 2020. For the period 2021-2027, the proposal amounts to €13 billion, this is more than the EU envelop for humanitarian aid (€11 billion)! However the exact budget will be negotiated and agreed after the European elections.
This Funding will go to applied research centres from the security sector and weapons manufacturers, but also to civilian companies working on technologies relevant for the military, like artificial intelligence.  The Fund will be open to companies based and controlled in the EU or other European countries (Norway, Iceland and probably the UK), but also to European branches from non-European companies (like American or Israeli ones who already regularly partner with EU companies) under certain conditions. The Fund will focus on “cutting-edge” technologies like unmanned (e.g. armed drones) and autonomous systems, and intelligence-surveillance, cybersecurity and maritime security.  Part of the funding will be earmarked for “disruptive” technologies which can “radically change the concept and conduct of defence affairs” – in other words, war.

Why is ENAAT opposed to the funding of the arms industry by the EU budget?
First the EU Defence Fund is a threat to peace and security: it crosses the red line that from the EU’s foundation prohibited it from contributing to military-related activities, and it goes against EU founding fathers’ vision, who considered the European Coal and Steel Community as a way to avoid a new arms race. The Fund will to the contrary exacerbate the global arms race and the development of unmanned and autonomous weapons systems integrating new technologies like artificial intelligence. Indeed the European military industry makes a large share of its sales outside Europe: subsidizing arms industry R&D to boost its (global) competitiveness will inevitably increase EU arms exports to areas where there is tension or conflict. In turn, weapons proliferation encourages the use of force rather than peaceful solutions.
To add on, the Fund diverts finite financial and human resources to the detriment of civilian priorities and peaceful solutions to conflicts, thus illustrating a shift towards looking for technological and military ‘answers’ to political and societal challenges; this profits the industry, not citizens. And contrary to official claims, it will not lead to savings as the Fund will not be a substitute to national R&D expenditures, and EU member States are still pushed to increase their national military spending under NATO commitments.
But the Defence Fund is not good either for European economy nor for the European project: Indeed the military industry is a dysfunctional economic sector which relies heavily on public spending and offers limited employment or growth. At EU level it accounts for a tiny share of the European economy, unevenly distributed in few large countries, and economists point to a neutral or negative impact of military spending on growth. In particular, investments in this industry creates fewer jobs at higher cost than in other needed sectors such as renewables. And subsiding the military R&D will rather divert funds and skilled resources from civilian needs because there is an EU-wide shortage of highly-skilled engineers, scientists and IT workers. Neither will it resolve over-production and duplication European industry is suffering from, as this would require prioritising specific companies and weapon systems over others; national governments are not willing to take the political decisions to make this happen. And lastly, it will not strengthen the EU, but rather creates a dangerous precedent: under derogatory rules the European Parliament has been sidelined and will have no say on what will be done with tax payers’ money for the duration of the programme (7 years), setting a dangerous precedent against EU integration and democratic scrutiny rules.
To sum up, we oppose to this Fund as it is about subsidizing a profitable and dangerous industry with public money, not about responding to citizens’ needs and expectations.

The Fund involves diverting civilian funds to the military domain. What is ENAAT’s vision of how EU research policy should be? Where should research money go, if not to the arms industry?
First any EU research programme should remain strictly civilian in order to fully respect EU treaties in their letter and spirit.  Indeed article 41 of the Treaty of the European Union clearly states that the EU community budget cannot be used to fund military-related operations.  According to a reputed German lawyer, Andreas Fischer-Lescano, the EU Defence Fund would thus be illegal.
Second there are many other industrial sectors that would need more R&D investments to resolve crucial challenges the EU and the world are facing, starting with environment and climate change: renewables, circular economy or environmentally-friendly construction are few examples of industrial sectors that would provide more jobs and more benefits to citizens. It is worth noting that most workers in the military sector are (highly) skilled workers that could convert more easily to other industrial sectors.
Of course another area where the EU should invest much more is in peace-building and conflict prevention: Shifting only part of the massive global military spending would allow resolving many of the threats against human security. In particular, it could help tackle and resolve the major root-causes of many conflicts and thus contribute to peace with much more certainty: besides climate change, this includes access to water and to land, inequalities and discrimination, human rights, corruption, free and fair elections, sound juridical systems and the rule of law, or reaching the Development Millennium Goals. Some of those will need technological progress and tools to be resolved; however technology is never an answer to environmental, societal & political challenges. Such easy ‘solutions’ to complex problems will merely benefit the industry lobbying for it. Peace-building in particular rather relies on dialogue and mediation, community-based approaches, peace education, etc. It is not technology consuming but rather human resources consuming: it needs specific human skills, it needs sufficient human resources and it needs flexibility, cooperation and continuity.
Thus the €13 billion of the EU Defence Fund would much more contribute to peace and security by investing in human resources, in building skills and in human interaction in the peace-building area. This would also create a good number of meaningful jobs, from peace-oriented research to projects management, peace-building skills training and proper evaluation and assessment methods.
If I understand our discussion correctly, recent developments point to an increasing trend of militarization of the European Union. Is this trend irreversible? What can EU citizens do to resist it?
We witness a militarisation of the EU in the sense that the military sector is now mainstreamed as a “normal business” and as priority in a wide range of EU civilian policies, which will also subsidize the arms industry.  And because securitary-military answers are increasingly prioritised to address what is perceived as threats, like migration flows or instability in neighbourhood areas, slowly but surely side-lining traditional peaceful approaches.
However such trend is not -yet- irreversible, in particular in view of the coming EU elections. The on-going pilot programmes will be over in 2020, and the final decision to dedicate €13 billion to the EU Defence Fund from 2021 is yet to be done in the autumn: the new European Parliament will have a last chance to say no to EU money for arms. Citizens can thus challenge their candidates to an EP seat on this issue and vote for those ready to reject the deal and give priority to peaceful policies. They can follow and support the actions of peace groups acting against the Defence Fund. And of course they can also challenge their national governments and MPs who also have a say on this issue, demonstrating that more high-tech weapons is not what EU citizens need.