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European Commission's handling of military research 'Group of Personalities' to be investigated
24.7.17
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An inquiry into the European Commission's alleged mishandling of a high-level advisory group charged with setting out plans for EU military research and cooperation has been launched by the European Ombudsman, in response to a complaint filed by the European Network Against the Arms Trade (ENAAT).

The 'Group of Personalities on the Preparatory Action on Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) related research' (GoP) was set up in March 2015 following European Council endorsements in December 2013 for more EU defence cooperation to improve "capacity to conduct missions and operations", including through technology development and more support for the 'European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB)'.

Membership of the GoP included the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini; the CEOs of Indra, MBDA, Saab, Airbus, TNO, BAE Systems, Finmeccanica; and former and serving high-level politicians from Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Poland, amongst others.

It does not appear that a formal decision was ever taken to establish the group, which published its final report in March 2016, explicitly endorsing the establishment of a Pilot Project and Preparatory Action on military research (currently running with a €90 million budget until 2020) and setting out proposals on "the next steps" - likely to be a multi-billion euro European Defence Research Programme to run, initially, between 2021 and 2027.

ENAAT, a Brussels-based group which represents peace and anti-militarist groups from across Europe, initially filed a complaint with the European Commission arguing that the GoP should have been formally considered as an expert group, something that would have required listing in the 'Register of Expert Groups and Other Similar Entities' and subjection to the relevant rules on transparency and disclosure.

Not happy with the Commission's response, ENAAT raised the issue with the European Ombudsman, the body responsible for investigating complaints about maladminstration by EU institutions, agencies and bodies.

Laëtitia Sédou, EU Programme Officer at the European Network Against Arms Trade, said:

“One of our priorities at ENAAT is to reveal the disproportionate influence of the arms industry lobby, led by the desire to make profits, on the EU policy making regarding security and defence. The 'Group of Personalities' is a recent but not unique illustration of this, and we have decided to use all possible channels to challenge the EC close ties with the arms industry."

ENAAT's complaint to the Ombudsman stated that the Commission's response time of six months was too slow; that it "does not explain why [the Commission] did not consider the GoP to be an expert group which should be included in the Register"; and that even though its work has now finished the GoP could still be included in the register.

The Ombudsman only launched its investigation on 12 July, but their first letter to the Commission refers to some conclusions reached following an investigation into the Commission’s Network on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction - "that it would be preferable for the Commission to choose to use an “expert group” if it wishes to obtain significant advice on important policies," because:

"in relation to legislative proposals, policy initiatives, delegated acts, or the implementation of legislation and policies... Choosing to structure a group as an “expert group” will have a positive impact on the eventual legitimacy, in the eyes of EU citizens, of the policies to the development of which that group has contributed."

The Ombudsman has requested that the Commission respond by 29 September 2017. According to Laëtitia Sédou:

“Whatever the outcome, the Ombudsman's inquiry will contribute to raising public awareness and EU institutions now know that they are being watched when favouring arms industry interests over peaceful approaches to conflicts and other civilian priorities."

The moves towards a European military research programme bear a striking similarity to those that led to the establishment of the European Security Research Programme, detailed in the Statewatch/Transnational Institute reports Arming Big Brother and NeoConOpticon (pdfs). A follow-up report to NeoConOpticon will be published next month.

Background

Common Security and Defence Policy related Research Preparatory action 2017 (European Parliament, link)

EU: New "Group of Personalities" (GoP) advance need for "military research" in EU following the "security research" initiative (Statewatch News Online, March 2016)

Commission proposes military research programme (Statewatch News Online, August 2014)

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