Why are the arms makers formulating EU policy?


December 17, 2005 18:06 | by Rae Street

looking at the weapons industry's key role in formulating EU military policy.

The militaristic heart of the European Union was revealed in all its ugly glory last month by European Commissioner for external relations Dr Benita Ferrero-Waldner. During a debate on arms exports, nuclear non-proliferation and defence procurement in the European Parliament, he set out the European Commission's aims to boost the military-industrial complex.

"The ultimate objective of the commission is to open up defence markets, which are today highly fragmented and to increase the efficiency of public spending by encouraging competition and transparency in these markets. This should be of benefit to both buyers and taxpayers but also to the European defence industry, which is suffering from a market structure which prevents it competing in the global marketplace."

Ferrero-Waldner also stated the need to press on with the European Defence Agency (EDA). Its title might sound innocuous, but the EDA is a central component in the development of a common European foreign and defence policy.

The impetus for common policy in this area has been growing since the early 1990s. It began to be formulated in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and appears within the proposed EU constitution so roundly rejected by the French and Dutch. The document urges member states "to progressively improve their military capabilities." It is lying dormant but could be resurrected at any time.

However, much of the policy laid down in the proposed constitution is going on apace regardless of its rejection by ordinary people. The EDA is key to this. It first met in September 2004 and exists to support member states in their effort to "improve European defence capabilities." What this means in plain English is more arms sales, more trade in weapons and research into more effective killing machines.

But what is fuelling this drive to spend taxpayers' money on rearming Europe? Weapons are big business. Basically, the EDA is an arms agency. Defence manufacturers are scrambling to get a slice of the military budget.

At the moment, the market is dominated by the big three US corporate manufacturers - Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. But they are closely followed by the European big three - BAE Systems, Thales and EADS. The last of these took out full-page newspaper adverts in 2004 to coincide with European foreign ministers' approval of the EDA. They urged the EU to boost military spending.

George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have encouraged greater military spending following September 11 2001 and "intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq." This begs the question, whose agenda is EU militarisation serving?

The Group of Personalities is an advisory body to the European Commission that was brought together in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks and the Madrid bombings. Its brief was to advise on the European security research programme. Eight of its 25 members came directly from big arms companies. Several others came from defence-related research institutes and ministries of defence.

The people missing were representatives of civil society or those working on non-military solutions to conflict.

Dutch Campaign Against the Arms Trade activist Frank Slipker has produced a comprehensive pamphlet entitled The Emerging EU Military Industrial Complex. He points out that the Group of Personalities' 2004 report Research for a Secure Europe has major failings.

"A shortcoming of the report is its almost exclusive focus on technocratic and technical solutions to a problem the complexity of which requires far more than technological (and often repressive) measures."

War, military bases and weapons of mass destruction are all good for the defence industry. But throwing more and more money at weapons and repressive technologies will not bring security to Europeans or the wider world.

These issues need to be raised with our elected representatives. The policy of allowing corporate defence contractors to virtually formulate European defence strategy must be challenged.

Rae Street is vice-chairwoman of the UK Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

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