Big business and security
The European security research programme (ESRP) has a €1.4bn EU budget and its twin objectives are to enhance European security and foster the growth of a globally competitive security industry in Europe. Unfortunately, in its haste to cash-in on the homeland security boom, the EU has effectively outsourced the design of its security research agenda to some of the corporations that have the most to gain from its implementation.
It has created bodies outside the formal structure of the EU, beyond parliamentary scrutiny and democratic control. The result is a public research programme designed by lobbyists, for lobbyists, with corporations invited to shape the objectives and annual priorities, and then apply for the money on offer.
Defence giants, including Thales, Finmeccanica, EADS, Sagem Défense Sécurité and ASD (Europe's largest defence industry lobby group), are among a host of multinationals to which the European commission has turned to help set the agenda for security research, develop homeland security strategies for Europe, and bring the relevant security technologies "to market".
ESRP was the brainchild of the "group of personalities", an EU advisory body convened in 2003 that included some of Europe's largest defence and IT contractors alongside the likes of NATO, the EU military committee and the Rand Corporation. The group's primary concern was the scale of the US government's investment in homeland security R&D, which meant that the US was "taking a lead" in the development of security "technologies and equipment which … could meet a number of Europe's needs", putting US multinationals in "a very strong competitive position".
In the absence of a clear legal basis to sanction EU homeland security subsidies, ESRP was incorporated into the framework of FP7, the EU's €51bn research programme. The EU also established two further stakeholder platformsto bring together government officials, security "experts" and companies selling homeland security products to advise on the development of the programme.
Of 85 EU security research contracts awarded to the end of 2008 – worth some €210m – 40 projects (47%) were led by companies that primarily service the defence sector. This includes the €20m Talos project, which will develop and field test "a mobile, modular, scalable, autonomous and adaptive system for protecting European borders" using "aerial and ground unmanned vehicles, supervised by a command and control centre". According to the project brief, specially adapted combat robots "will undertake the proper measures to stop the illegal action almost autonomously with supervision of border guard officers".
A number of EU security research projects focus on the implementation of legislation mandating the inclusion of fingerprints in EU passports and the creation of biometric ID systems. The principal beneficiary has been the European Biometrics Forum, an umbrella group of suppliers "whose overall vision is to establish the European Union as the world leader in biometrics excellence by addressing barriers to adoption and fragmentation in the marketplace".
EU research is promoting the development of a range of technologies that could engender systematic violations of its subjects fundamental rights, 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. In turn, the EU security research agenda is increasingly having an impact on the EU policy agenda.
Of course, not all of the projects funded under ESRP are controversial, and many security technologies may be welcome, but even in areas like critical infrastructure protection and crisis management, military researchers can often be found playing a leading role. Perhaps it's just what we need to kickstart the world economy? A new arms race, with all the weapons pointing inwards.
NeoConOpticon: the EU Security-Industrial Complex by Ben Hayes was published on Friday by Statewatch and the Transnational Institute