In December 2013 the governments of the 28 countries in the EU unanimously agreed that supporting their national arms manufacturers was a priority. The idea was proposed initially in response to the economic crisis, but it was quickly supported by those who wanted a more aggressive foreign policy.
The leaders of all 28 countries set the strategy, and asked the European Commission to draw up specific proposals. With influence from arms trade lobbying, the Commission developed proposals to subsidise arms companies by paying for their research with public funds.
The European Commission is just the civil service, so approval needs to be sought from the 28 democratically-elected governments and the 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who are elected by the citizens of EU countries.
As they agreed the strategy in the first place, getting agreement from national governments should be easy. And, of course, if governments face any criticism at home, they can just blame ‘Brussels’.
But what will our MEPs decide?
This Preparatory Action on Defence Research, as it is called, is now part of the draft budget for 2017. It was written by an advisory ‘Group of Personalities’, of whom more than half were arms trade representatives. No surprise then when the group recommended that its own industry should be subsidised by the tax-payer.
Previously, only civilian projects have qualified for funding from the huge EU research budget. This will change if the plan passes the Budget Committee on 28-29 September, and then is approved by the whole European Parliament on 26 October.
This is only the start. Proposals are being developed to create a European Defence Research Programme in 2021 worth 3.5 billion euros. Where will the money come from? Peacebuilding budgets are at risk because of the money needed for the EU-Turkey deal, as are international development budgets if MEPs also approve separate proposals to divert development aid funding to military equipment for parts of Africa.
And for those of you living in a post-Brexit UK in a few years… Not affected?
Think again! UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said this week that the UK intends to cooperate closely with EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. Both the UK and Norway, a non-EU member, may ask to opt in to the European Defence Research Programme to ensure their weapons manufacturers are not disadvantaged.
But I live in a democracy. Surely I can influence this?
If any single EU government opposes the Preparatory Action on Defence Research it will not happen. If more than half of MEPs vote against it will not happen.
Europe is a continent at peace, but we do export war and suffering through our arms trade. And in a democracy, it is our arms trade.
Quakers are called to live ‘in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars’. Many others would agree, or oppose war for other reasons. Curtailing the arms industry must be an essential prerequisite for this.
If you would like to ask your MEP to vote against the Preparatory Action on Defence Research, please click here to find their contact addresses.
For more information about the Preparatory Action on Defence Research click here for the European Network Against the Arms Trade briefing paper.
To read Stop Fuelling War’s 8 myths about the European arms trade click here.
Richard Smith and Andrew Lane
See how faith groups engage with the arms trade at the recent Eurosatory arms fair: