MEPs to back multi-million euro military research budget
The EU parliament is poised to approve spending public money on military research on a large scale for the first time.
MEPs on Wednesday (26 October) are voting on a proposal that seeks to fund "innovative defence technology" from 2017 over three years under a so-called Preparatory Action for Defence Research.
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Around €25 million per year will be set aside in annual EU budgets for an effort that aims to kick-start a multi-billion euro defence research programme in the next seven-year budget cycle starting 2021.
The move signals a major shift towards granting European defence companies access to an EU budget that has so far been largely off limits for military research. Many have received grants from the EU's Horizon 2020 programme, where spending has been categorised as “security” rather than military.
The 1,600-page draft 2017 EU budget proposal sets out explicit objectives.
It notes, among other things, the need to launch a "large scale demonstration project" by next year to showcase "a first experimental development of new, innovative defence technology".
Laetitia Sedou, EU programme officer at the Brussels-based European Network Against Arms Trade, says the EU subsidy push has been largely driven by the European Commission and the industry.
"There was a very strong involvement in the industry through what they call a Group of Personalities, more than half of which is made of industry who would be entitled to benefit from this funding," she said.
Along with politicians like EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the Group of Personalities includes the CEOs of Airbus, Saab, BAE systems, Finmeccanica, among others. Launched by the EU commission in 2015, the group provides policy advice on European defence cooperation.
Earlier this year, the group argued in a report that EU funding was needed to shore up national budget shortfalls given the financial crisis.
They also said a strong European defence industry would not only create jobs but also face down regional instability and over-reliance on allies like the US.
Efforts to get the EU to finance military research initially kicked off in 2014 when over €1 million was given to a pilot project run by the European Defence Agency (EDA).
"This is the first time that defence research will be funded through the EU budget," said the agency in March.
The pilot project was the initial step towards creating a possible fully fledged defence research programme under the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021 to 2027.
The EDA is set to announce the projects it selected under the scheme this Friday.
“Securing the long-term future for our defence industry is in all our interests. Both nationally and collectively,” said the EU commission last year.