Much militarisation, little transparency

The EU’s security and defence policy was up for review on 25–26 June 2015, when the heads of government of the 28 EU Member States gathered in Brussels for a summit meeting (known as a European Council meeting).

This is a very significant area of EU policy. Although few are aware of it, there is considerable military cooperation at the EU level. Each year the EU spends part of its budget on funding research with military applications. EU Member States send their troops on joint military operations — for example, Operation ALTHEA provides a joint EU military presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is also a specialised EU body called the European Defence Agency, which promotes EU cooperation on military research and procurement.

The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia, an example of the EU's peacebuilding work Photo credit: European External Action Service Licensed under a Creative Commons licence

The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia, an example of the EU’s peacebuilding work
Photo credit: European External Action Service
Licensed under a Creative Commons licence

Not all EU security cooperation is military. The EU also runs non-military security initiatives, including the EU Mediation Support Team (which works to de-escalate conflicts through dialogue), and civilian peacebuilding missions such as the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia. However, in recent years there has been a strong trend towards the militarisation of the EU, with EU policy-makers thinking about the world in increasingly militaristic term. The outcome of this recent review (which has been published as part II of the “conclusions” document issued after the European Council meeting) shows a clear continuation of this trend.

Given the critical importance of the 25–26 June review — the first summit-level review of this policy area since the December 2013 European Council meeting — it is disappointing that the official statement of the outcome is only just over a page long, and contains very little detail. European Council meetings are not very transparent, or open to citizen participation. There are pre-meeting discussions behind the scenes, the national heads of government meet behind closed doors, and then a “conclusions” document is issued containing limited, sanitised information on what has been agreed.

Yet in spite of this lack of transparency, the general policy direction is clear. The European Council conclusions make approving reference to two important preliminary documents (the April 2015 paper on security published by the European Commission, and the May 2015 policy document agreed by the EU national defence and foreign ministers). Putting all this information together with what we already know about EU policy, some overall themes become apparent:

(1) The national governments of EU Member States are taking a broad view of what counts as a “security” issue. Issues such as undocumented migration, drug dealing, cyber-crime, and the dumping of hazardous waste — which would all traditionally have been regarded as law-and-order issues — are now being reclassified as “security” issues. (The process of classifying issues as “security” issues — and thereby legitimising extraordinary measures to tackle them — is known as securitisation.) Once something has been classified as a “security” issue, a military response may come to be seen as appropriate. For example, the European Council has expressed its support for EUNAVFOR MED, a new and controversial EU joint operation that involves deploying naval forces against people-smugglers in the Mediterranean — in effect, a military response to undocumented migration.

Air-to-air refuelling, one of the EU's priorities for military technology development Photo credit: US Air Force

Air-to-air refuelling, one of the EU’s military technology priorities
Photo credit: US Air Force

(2) The national governments are planning to continue their support for the EU arms industry — the argument here is that a stronger arms industry would be beneficial both for “security” and for the economy. In particular, the European Council supports the European Commission’s plan (previously reported in this blog) to increase EU military research funding. The EU will continue to pursue the four main military technology goals agreed by the European Council in December 2013: more effective facilities for air-to-air refuelling, more effective drones, more effective satellite communications, and more effective defence against cyber-attacks. There is an assumption here that militaristic approaches are best, rather than other ways of dealing with conflict and of building prosperity.

(3) The national governments are seeking increased military collaboration at the EU level, including a greater role for the EU institutions in promoting EU military collaboration. The plan to increase EU military research funding is part of this broader policy move. There has also been discussion of a renewed commitment to the “EU Battlegroup” system, under which EU Member States place some of their troops under joint EU command. (Although EU Battlegroups have existed since 2007, they have never actually been deployed.) The European Council conclusions call for “the Member States to allocate a sufficient level of expenditure for defence” — although it is not clear what is meant by “sufficient”.

For those of us who advocate against the militarisation of the EU, there is little to be pleased about here. We must remember, however, that the EU is (as always) a “work in progress”, and that there will be future opportunities to argue for the sort of EU we would like to see. Ideally, we would like to see an EU that spends more of its resources on peacebuilding (a field in which the EU already has considerable experience), and on working towards the nonviolent transformation of conflict, rather than on building military strength. We would like to see an EU that works for the welfare of all human beings, rather than treating undocumented migrants (for example) as a threat to “security”.

Photo credit: Håkan Dahlström Licensed under a Creative Commons licence

Photo credit: Håkan Dahlström
Licensed under a Creative Commons licence

Next year (2016) will be an important year for EU peace advocacy. There are plans for a new EU foreign policy strategy document, to be approved at the June 2016 European Council meeting. There will also be more intergovernmental discussion of the EU’s security and defence policy, at least at senior ministerial level, with the possibility of another summit-level review at the December 2016 European Council meeting. And apart from this, 2016 is likely to be the year in which the European Parliament considers the first stage of the plan to increase EU military research funding.

QCEA will continue its work in Brussels, advocating for greater transparency in the EU’s decision-making processes, for more emphasis on peaceful approaches, and against the ongoing militarisation of the EU. And we will continue to remind people of what is so often forgotten: the original purpose of European integration was to ensure peace!

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