Saturday

24th Feb 2018

EU environment and science money moved to military fund

The European Commission is proposing to finance parts of its proposed defence fund with money originally allocated to energy, environmental and scientific programmes.

The EU's executive announced its plan to subsidise research and procurement of high-end defence technologies on Wednesday (7 June), but the origin of the money has gone largely under-reported.

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  • Work on the Fusion for Energy project. EU commission promises 'none of the current projects will be delayed' (Photo: Fusion for Energy)

In 2019 and 2020, the commission wants to redirect €145 million that was originally allocated to the Connecting Europe Facility, a programme aimed at integrating European energy markets, increasing energy security, protecting the environment, and promoting interoperability of digital service infrastructures.

Of that sum, €40 million was supposed to go to projects that contribute to “sustainable development and protection of the environment”.

The redirection has irked some environmental groups.

“If it's correct that the European Commission is proposing to divert funds earmarked for environmental and climate protection to the defence industry - as appears to be the case - this is a new low,” said Magda Stoczkiewicz, director of Friends of the Earth Europe.

“The security of humankind depends on having a liveable climate and healthy planet,” Stoczkiewicz told EUobserver in a written statement.

“More funds, not less, are urgently needed to bring about the transition to a clean, sustainable energy system. In this crucial period when the future of Europe is in the spotlight, the EU institutions needs to demonstrate they are focused on the health of people and planet, not on the interests of the defence industry.”

Greenpeace was also annoyed, although its climate and energy policy advisor Ansgar Kiene said he was not 100 percent sure what the programmes originally would have entailed.

“This would be a short sighted and dangerous move by the EU and European governments,” Kiene said in an emailed comment.

“Peaceful societies rely on a healthy environment. Without investing in environmental protection and action on climate change, the EU would in fact increase the threat to peace and stability,” he added.

The €145 million is a relatively small part of the total budget of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), which is worth around €30 billion over the 2014-2020 period.

Shifting priorities

However, it is not the first time that Jean-Claude Juncker’s commission has redirected funds from the CEF, set up during his predecessor Jose Manuel Barroso, to other priorities.

At the end of last year, some €33 million from the CEF were redirected to the Erasmus+ education programme. A free WiFi fund will also chip some millions away from CEF.

A separate, large-scale investment programme, called the Juncker fund, was funded by redirecting €6 billion from CEF, as well as another EU fund, the research & development programme Horizon 2020.

The EU defence fund will not take money from Horizon 2020, but scientific programmes will be affected, if member states and MEPs agree with the commission's proposal.

Satellites

The commission wants to take €80 million in 2019 and €50 million in 2020 from funds originally promised to Europe's satellite navigation programme Galileo.

Galileo, a €5-billion project by the EU and by the intergovernmental European Space Agency, is Europe's answer to GPS, and an attempt to no longer rely on that US-owned technology.

The EU's earth observation programme Copernicus will also hand in some of its funds, but this will amount to only €15 million of its total €4.3 billion.

Copernicus satellite data can be used to map environmental pressure, possible migration flows, or check the lands of recipients of EU farm subsidies.

Another notable programme to be hit by the EU defence fund is Europe’s contribution to international nuclear fusion research.

Scientists are trying to harness the power of the sun to provide limitless clean energy.

But the Barcelona-based Fusion for Energy (F4E) organisation will see its 2019 budget reduced by €30 million and its 2020 budget by €50 million for the sake of the defence fund.

Commission promises no delays

In a response, the European Commission defended the reshuffling of budgets.

“With the European Defence Fund, we are delivering on president Juncker's commitment to increase the security of our citizens, and responding to the mandate by the European Council of December 2016,” said EU commission spokeswoman Lucia Caudet

The European Council is the regular summit of EU government leaders.

“The reallocation of funds has been carefully designed in a way that none of the current projects will be delayed and the future delivery of the various programmes will not be affected,” said Caudet.

She added that the ICT part of the Connecting Europe Facility (€25 million) “should be seen in the light of growing synergies between cyber-defence and civilian cybersecurity”.

The exercise highlights the constraints in which the European Commission works.

The European Union budget is fixed for several years, and if the commission wants to propose new policies that require funding, it often has to redirect money originally allocated elsewhere.

EU to spend €1.5bn a year on joint defence

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EU mulls joint defence spending

The EU budget should be used for military research and the bloc could become a defence alliance akin to Nato, the European Commission is poised to say.

Optimism in Bonn about fusion reactor, despite Brexit

Brexit 'may have significant effect' on nuclear fusion research project, say EU auditors, but scientist involved says it is a question of 'when' not 'if' fusion power is scaled up commercially.

MEPs may bar killer drones from EU research cash

EU defence fund is expected to hand out €500m to companies across the EU if they work together on 'defence products'. Under the current proposal, the development of weapons of mass destruction would not be excluded.

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