EU 'homeland security' lacks democratic oversight, says watchdog

Ben Hayes: EU's security research programme threatens civil liberties
02 October 2009
In the media
Decisions on the expansion of the lucrative security sector in the EU are hived off from public view and are being made by the companies that will ultimately profit from them.
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EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - As European 'homeland security' sector stakeholders meet this week in Stockholm, a civil liberties watchdog is warning that decisions on the expansion of this lucrative new sector, hived off from public view and with minimal democratic scrutiny, are being made by the very companies that will ultimately profit from from them.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, security research stakeholders from across the continent met in Stockholm for the annual European Security Research Conference under the aegis of the EU presidency, currently held by Sweden.

The conference, the "major place to meet and discuss the creation of a security research area in Europe," according to the Swedish EU presidency, takes place as a new report from UK-based civil liberties monitoring group Statewatch, brings to light how the very companies that will profit from the bloc's €1.4 billion European Security Research Programme (ERSP) are the ones that are participating in its design and implementation.

The seven-year ERSP, launched in 2007, has the twin aim of delivering brand-new high-tech security technologies to Europe - from advanced profiling systems to unmanned aerial drones - and, explicitly, to foster a rapid growth in this lucrative sector in order to not let US companies steal a march on their European rivals.

While civil liberties campaigners say that there is nothing wrong in principle with genuine, civilian-led efforts to deal with crime and catastrophic events, the report says that at every step of the development of a European security research strategy, there has been no democratic oversight.

The group claims there is a clear conflict of interest as the design of the ERSP has been "outsourced to the very corporations that have the most to gain from its implementation,' highlighting defence giants Thales, Finmeccanica, EADS, Saab and Sagem Défénsé Sécurité.

In the three different stages of the development of the ERSP, these multinational corporations have dominated the process while MEPs, national politicians and civil society have been all but excluded, the report shows.

'Democratic sheen'

In 2003, a "Group of Personalities" (GoP) was convened as an advisory body essentially to conceive the first principles for European security research.

The GoP was composed of the EU commissioners for research and information society and as observers the commissioners for external relations and trade, along with the high representative for EU foreign and security policy, Nato representatives, the Western European Armaments Association and the EU Military Committee.

Also represented on the GoP were the CEOs or senior directors of eight multinational corporations, including Europe's four largest arms manufacturers - EADS, BAE Systems, Thales and Finmeccanica - and IT firms - Ericsson, Indra, Siemens and Diehl.

Four MEPs were present, "adding a democratic sheen to the process," according to the report, two Christian Democrats, a Socialist and a Liberal, but one, Karl Von Wogau was also an advisory board member with Security and Defence Agenda, an arms industry think-tank and lobby group.

The GoP's 2004 report stated that there was a strong case for subsidising the development of a European security sector, as it was falling behind the United States, noting that the US Department of Homeland Security budget includes "around $1 billion dedicated to research."

The report went on to say that as a result, Washington was "taking a lead," which could be worrisome for the EU if the US was able to "impose normative and operational standards worldwide."

But this is also problematic because "US industry will enjoy a very strong competitive position."

Parallel to this first stage, the commission in 2004 established the €65 million Preparatory Action for Security Research, which funded 39 security research projects. Ahead of this, the commission issued no green paper on security research, which is the norm for setting out possible policy options, and no public debate.

20-year vision

After the GoP was wound up, the commission established the European Security Research Advisory Board (Esrab) in April, 2005, which moved on from first principles to setting the agenda for security research.

Similar to its predecessor, the Esrab included many of the same "stakeholder experts," including seven of the eight corporations that had sat on the GoP - EADS, BAE Systems, Thales, Finmeccanica, Ericsson, Siemens and Diehl.

But there was no consultation of the European or national parliaments as to its make-up. The nominations instead came from EU ambassadors, the European Defence Agency and, again, unnamed "stakeholder groups".

In March 2007, the commission set up the European Security Research and Innovation Forum (Esrif), with a wider remit than the Esrab, going beyond research to development needs and to produce a 20-year vision for the sector.

Here too, the 65 members of the Esrif plenary were selected in the same way as the Esrab without parliamentary input, no members of the European Parliament, and no representation from civil liberties or privacy organisations.

But while MEPs were shut out of the process, representatives from some non-EU member states were welcomed aboard, including from the Counter-terrorism Bureau of Israel's National Security Council.

Moreover, Esrif was subdivided into 11 working groups with an additional 595 security research stakeholders, of the total 660 individuals participating, 66 percent came from defence and security contractors, again including EADS, Finmeccanica, Thales and the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe.

Three MEPs took part in the working groups and nine individuals from civil society, although again none from civil liberties groups.

Esrif's report, a "roadmap" for security research until 2030 was to be presented at the European Security Research Conference in Stockholm this week, but the roadmap, a 300-page document, has been delayed for one to two months.

The report says that the failure to separate the development from the implementation of the ERSP and the appointment of industry-dominated stakeholder groups to develop the policy they will eventually get paid to carry out "represents an unlawful act of maladministration."

The commission says that the Esrif is in fact "neither a commission body nor a commission-driven exercise," a statement Statewatch calls "astonishing" as it "suggests that the commission has effectively outsourced the strategic development of a €1.4 billion EU research programme to a wholly unaccountable, informal group."

'No legal basis'

But the report authors suggest that in fact the real reason the groups have been informal is due to the absence of a legal basis in the EU treaties for the commission to establish advisory bodies dealing with security and technology issues.

"Instead of seeking to legitimise the commission's activities in this area, the EU and its member states have chosen instead to give a dubious mandate to an informal body."

The report author says that as a result, the conclusions favour a high-tech blueprint for "a new kind of security", one in which "peacekeeping and crisis management missions make no operational distinction between the suburbs of Basra and the banlieues," a surveillance society where the type of aggressive systems used to make war are used domestically and along frontiers as well.

The ESRP is promoting the development of a range of technologies that could engender systematic violations of fundamental rights, according to the report, including militarised border controls, surveillance and profiling technologies, the widespread collection and analysis of personal data, automated targeting systems, satellite and space-based surveillance, and crisis management' tools.

"It is not just a case of "sleepwalking into a surveillance society," said the report's author, Ben Hayes, "it feels more like turning a blind eye to the start of a new kind of arms race, one in which all the weapons are pointing inwards."

MEPs integral

The European Commission, for its part, feels that the people behind the report are getting worked up over very little, as the Esrif is only an advisory body and not the organ that actually crafts policy.

"The Esrif cannot design a [security research] strategy, this is up to the commission," the commission's acting enterprise spokesperson, Jonathan Todd, told EUobserver.

"Esrif is a Cars 21-type process in a larger format - involving industry, research, users, MEPs, civil society," he added, referring to the Competitive Automotive Regulatory System for the 21st Century, a high-level expert group that brought together all the main stakeholders in the car sector, including consumer and environmental organisations, to advise the commission on future policy.

Cars 21 was also criticised by lobbying transparency campaigners during its existence for its dominance of the European Car Manufacturers Association (ACEA).

The commission countered the suggested that the European Parliament was not getting a look in, with Mr Todd saying: "MEPs are an integral part of Esrif."

"From the beginning we were conscious as regards civil liberties and believe that all what is happening has to happen transparently," he said. "We are not in favour of a 'surveillance society'."