How the EU cosied up to the defence lobby
By Crina Boros
A faceless building at Number 10 Rue Montoyer in Brussels hosts two tenants with an influential grip on the European Union security policy. Situated in the heart of “the European Quarter”, Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) shares its address with the European Organisation for Security (EOS).
Both lobby bodies represent defence and security companies that win EU-funded contracts and appear very successful in winning tenders and setting the EU's security agenda.
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They are among the estimated 30,000 lobbyists who try to influence EU lawmakers in Brussels, often raising concerns about conflict of interest in the depths of EU policy making.
Things changed in the security sector when the EU set up a security research programme in 2005. The programme aimed to develop a European security industry, according to J Peter Burgess, an expert in the geopolitics of risk at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris.
Its focus shifted towards immigration and cybersecurity, on the back of an internationally bruising economic crisis, the rise of right-wing political parties, chronic unemployment, and the refugee crisis.
Part of EU’s strategy was to consult industry actors on related policies, programmes and their implementation in shaping projects for tender, so the Commission set up advisory groups.
From 2007 to 2013, the Security Advisory Group (SAG) served a programme called Security under EU's 7th Research Framework Programme (FP7). Over the seven years, FP7 had a budget of over €50 billion, of which €1.4 billion was set aside for its Security programme.
In 2014, FP7 was rebranded as Horizon 2020 (H2020) and €1.6 billion was earmarked to be spent on a programme called Secure Societies between 2014 and 2020.
The industry has gained significant influence in shaping security policies, not the least through EOS and ASD.
Initially in 2007, five out of 20 SAG experts were working for organisations affiliated to the EOS.
In 2010, when the SAG group updated its memberships, about a third of the committee’s advisers (seven out of 22) were affiliated to an EOS member.
The security advisory group (SAG) serving the FP7 changed its name to Protection And Security Advisory Group (PASAG) under the new framework H2020.
Seven out of 30 PASAG members work with EOS-affiliated companies and even more have worked for or in partnerships with one.
Investigate Europe has carried out in-depth research into the backgrounds of consultants and the firms that win EU tenders, and revealing how industry stakeholders advise the commission, and then profit from their decisions.
The European Organisation for Security (EOS) lobby group has become a stable presence in the security advisory committees.
Out of 39 SAG consultants hired for their expertise, at least 15 had ties with companies that won FP7 security research contracts.
EOS chief Luigi Rebuffi has been both a SAG and PASAG consultant. He also works for defence and security giant Thales, another EOS-affiliated EU contracts winner.
PASAG member Cristina Leone is an employee of Finmeccanica, an Italian multinational defence and security company that has won tenders for EU-funded security research. Finmeccanica is part of the EOS family, and Leone works for ASD.
EU contractor and EOS member Airbus, one of the world’s largest defence companies, is linked to PASAG consultant Brigitte Serreault.
From the same lobby family, the Fraunhofer Institute, a German research organisation, is linked to two PASAG members. Fraunhofer won security contracts under the Secure Societies programme.
Additionally, five academic institutions that hire PASAG members receive EU funding for security research: the University of Athens, the University of Oxford, the University of Brighton, the University of Salford and the University of Birmingham.
The commission used to be transparent about its consultants’ industry affiliation. But under Horizon 2020, it blurred their employment ties.
Experts can now join EU advisory groups in a “personal capacity”, meaning “acting independently and expressing their own personal views” according to the commission.
Since May 2016, they have to sign a declaration of acceptance when they join, declaring “any conflict of interest that they could have,” to be filed by December 30, a commission spokesperson said.
“When an advisory group expert knowingly conceals a conflict of interest and this is discovered once a member, the commission will exclude the expert in question from the group,” said the spokesperson.
Other members - who may be appointed to represent an interest, a stakeholder, a company, government department or authorities from non-EU states, an NGO or an institution of some sort - are not required to file a declaration of interest.
Under present regulations, companies that employ European Commission consultants have no restrictions bidding for EU-funded projects.
All security consultants and their employers contacted have rebuffed allegations of wrongdoing.
“Members of advisory groups are chosen for their expertise and frequently have connections with organisations bidding for research,” ex-FP7 consultant Andrew Sleigh said. “This is one of the reasons advisory groups are never involved in any way in assessment, selection or procurement decisions.”
Not every PASAG consultant has filed a declaration of interest in spite of the commission’s current regulations. Anne Lambert, a British civil servant, left without submitting hers.
Lambert worked for NATS, an air traffic control services provider, until March 2014. She joined the commission’s expert group in December 2015 and resigned less than a year later.
She told Investigative Europe that she did not complete a declaration of interest because "the deadline for members of the commission’s expert groups… was after [she] had resigned from PASAG.”
"There seems to be a very incomplete understanding among some people of what a conflict of interest looks like,” EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly told Investigate Europe.
She pointed out that a conflict of interest must be declared even if not exercised, and that filling in a declaration of interest is mandatory. The ombudsman called for the commission to take action against potential conflicts of interest.
A lobby backstage
Official documents from the commission show that industry lobbyists are a vital part in shaping the European policy.
A memo obtained by Dutch news website De Correspondent through an Access to Documents request mentions a meeting in November 2015 between the EU commission’s director general for Migration and Home Affairs Matthias Ruete and three lobbyists.
Among them were Burkard Schmitt, a former EU official versed in all aspects of security and defence, now working for ASD; and Alberto de Benedictis, a former manager of the Italian arms company Finmeccanica, who served as ADS chairman until early 2016.
The meeting was to discuss a research programme called Security for Europe and its Citizens.
The memo, written for EU officials ahead of the meeting, noted that ASD “had actively taken part in discussions to shape our strategic documents”.
Under a reform of SAG, it said, “representatives from industry, or with a strong industrial background, will be more numerous than in the past”.
“We have six more names from industry on the list for 2016, 2017 or 2018 replacements. This will lead to a slight overall increase of industry representation in the SAG,” the memo reads.
Officials concluded that the Call for Proposals attracted more industry applicants in 2015 than in the previous year “because topics are more of interest to the industry”.
A 2014 assessment of security measures under the FP7 framework by the EU Parliament's citizens’ rights and constitutional affairs policy department was broadly critical of the influence of lobbyists.
“This closed community in the making, interested in the development of huge margins of profits for the industry, has successfully framed the parameters and rationale of EU-funded security research, in which the main stakeholders have increasingly played a role of gatekeepers,” the study said.
Following a complaint by anti-lobby organisation Corporate Europe Observatory, Ombudsman O'Reilly conducted her own investigation into the EU commission’s advisory bodies.
She concluded in her 2015 report that there was “the perceived imbalance in favour of corporate interests in certain groups and potential conflicts of interest of experts who participate in their personal capacity”.
In addition to Crina Boros, journalists Wojciech Ciesla, Ingeborg Eliassen, Christophe Garach, Nikolas Leontopoulos, Maria Maggiore, Paulo Pena, Harald Schumann, Elisa Simantke also contributed to this investigation for Investigate Europe.
Investigate Europe is supported by Germany's Hans-Böckler-Stiftung, Rudolf-Augstein-Stiftung and Stiftung Hübner&Kennedy, the Norwegian foundation Fritt Ord and the Open Society Initiative for Europe.