Great article by Andrew Rettman on EUObserver on the latest no-government-should-be-seen-without-one, public-money hoovering, military-industrial subsidies disguised as research fad: EU firms join gold rush on drones.
I did some work on this issue last year for Corporate Europe Observatory. Here’s the gist:
The European Union’s research and development grant scheme, the Seventh Framework Programme, commits €2.83 billion (5.6 percent of the total budget) to space and security research between 2007-2013. Much of this money is being spent on surveillance or even pseudo-military projects, though spending of EU research funds on weapons R&D is forbidden.
One of the most obvious pseudo-military projects, according to Ben Hayes of think tank the Transnational Institute, is TALOS (Transportable autonomous patrol for land border surveillance). TALOS is a Polish-led project to develop unmanned drones that can be used for border control. Among the project’s deliverables are military-style land vehicles (similar to small tanks), which could be adapted to carry weapons. Demonstration videos showing how drones and “interceptors” can be used to catch illegal immigrants (with the accompaniment of pumping rock music) are available at http://talos-border.eu/
EU funding for TALOS is €12.9 million. Like all EU-backed research projects, the consortium behind TALOS will retain the intellectual property, potentially creating a valuable asset that will boost corporate profits when sold on to governments around the world.
Among the TALOS partners is defence firm Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)*, which has already developed a range of drones, some of which have been used for “assassination missions” over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. IAI is also a partner in the EU-funded OPARUS project (public funding: €1.19 million), which is working on an “open architecture for the operation of unmanned air-to-ground wide area land and sea border surveillance platforms in Europe”. Other OPARUS partners include BAE Systems, Dassault, EADS and Thales, large defence contractors which already benefit from participation in multiple strands of the Framework Programme, such as the Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative.
Israeli companies are particularly successful in securing EU research grants. Israel participates equally in FP7 alongside EU countries and is one of a group of countries (the others being Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland) that, after France, Germany and the United Kingdom, secure proportionally the most funding. In addition to OPARUS and TALOS, IAI is involved in another 15 projects, attracting total public funding of €148.55 million.
Another prominent Israeli defence company benefiting from EU research funds is Elbit Systems. Elbit is a partner in four FP7 projects, funded by the taxpayer to the tune of €27.3 million. Among these projects is TASS – Total Airport Security System – which is developing a airport surveillance system and will be tested during the London Olympics in 2012 (see here).
Elbit has been labelled a company that helps consolidate Israeli control over the occupied territories. It provides surveillance technologies to the separation wall around the West Bank. The EU considers the wall illegal where it is built on Palestinian land.
Ben Hayes says that the EU suffers from a kind of myopia when financing security research. The advisory group overseeing the security part of FP7 is dominated by homeland security officials and defence companies that benefit directly from EU security research funds. The group includes representatives from Cassidian (an EADS company), Finmeccanica, Sagem/Morpho (now merged into Safran), and industry group the European Organisation for Security (the membership of which includes Cassidian and Safran). There is a “structural conflict of interest: the same companies setting the research agenda and then applying for the money on offer,” says Hayes.
The European Commission, he adds, is “using the security research money to support policy development,” resulting, in effect, in another lobbying avenue for major defence and security companies. The aim is also to support EU defence companies in the face of Chinese or Russian competition. “It’s starting to look like procurement,” Hayes says. “It’s openly about industrial subsidies”.
*IAI’s first half 2011 sales to the “military market” made up 72 percent of total sales.