Thursday

30th Mar 2017

EU steps up funding for drone research

  • Surveillance drones pose questions for people's privacy, Statewatch says (Photo: Chris Hunkeler)

EU defence firms have received hundreds of millions in EU research grants for work on drones, despite rules against funding of military projects.

A report out by the London-based civil liberties watchdog, Statewatch, on Wednesday (12 February), says at least €315 million of EU research money was lavished on the sector in recent years.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

“Of this, almost €120 million has gone towards major security research projects,” it notes.

Rules prohibit the EU’s “Horizon” science scheme from funding military projects.

But the concept of “dual-use technology,” in which equipment can be used for both civilian and military objectives, gives the EU institutions enough leeway to go ahead.

The European Commission says the research is regulated for civilian use.

“It’s true that research can potentially be used for military and civilian use but what is important is that we regulate differently military airspace and civilian airspace,” EU spokesperson Helen Kearns told this website.

She noted the EU’s task is to regulate remotely piloted aircraft in civilian airspace.

“The target of our research is very clearly at their safety use in civilian airspace,” she said.

Unmanned aircraft can be used, for instance, to monitor crops or environmental hazards.

But Statewatch says there is a growing trend to use them for “militarised and repressive” purposes, including law enfrocement and border control, with serious implications for privacy and human rights.

Its survey describes the EU subsidies as a “blank cheque” for Europe’s military corporations.

“It’s easy to see why people are so excited about drones: There are many positive things they could be used for,” Ben Hayes, one of the co-authors of the report, said.

He added there is “a clear direction of travel” in terms of developing drones for high-tech warfare and security surveillance, however.

Some of the EU-funded projects - such as Talos (transportable autonomous patrol for land border surveillance), Perseus (the protection of European seas and borders through the intelligent use of surveillance), and Seabilla (Sea Border Surveillance) - are currently being worked on by EU defence firms Dassault Aviation and Thales.

The Talos project, which received almost €13 million of EU money, also involves Israel Aerospace Industries, a leading maker of lethal drones.

Statewatch notes that EU funding for the sector is set to increase.

It points out that the overall EU budget for security research has tripled from €1.4 billion, under the previous budget period, to €3.8 billion in 2014 to 2020.

Meanwhile, the Brussels-based European Defence Agency (EDA), has, in a parallel programme, paid out some €190 million for military and civilian drone research between 2005 and 2011.

Major arms manufacturers such as Thales, Selex, EADS, and Sagem are among the main recipients. Just over half the money has gone towards research unmanned aerial vehicles.

Last November, defence ministers from seven EU member states also tasked the EDA with drafting a study on joint production of Medium Altitude Long Endurance (Male) vehicles.

The club of seven countries, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain, aim to produce the military drones from 2020 onward.

At the same time, EU institutions are pushing to remove the regulatory and technical barriers that currently limit the flight of drones in civilian airspace.

The European Commission published a roadmap in June 2013 to have them flying in civilian air by 2028.

Statewatch says that €70 million budget line aimed at ensuring widespread civilian drone flight was inserted into new EU legislation as “a politically driven priority” despite the fact that there has been no democratic debate on the issue.

Faced with stiff competition from US and Israeli manufacturers, the EU hopes that investment in drones will help create jobs and profits in Europe’s military-industrial complex.

The EU Commission is set to come out with a communication in March on drones and the regulatory hurdles to getting them into civilian airspace.

EU promises new dawn for drone makers

The EU Commission has promised to help European drone makers conquer world markets, as part of wider efforts to export EU aviation rules.

'Unhappy' day as UK delivers Brexit letter

European Council chief Donald Tusk said that "damage control" starts for the EU, as British PM Theresa May has invoked Article 50 nine months after the UK voted to leave the bloc.

Commission stops German-British stock merger

The decision to block the merger of the London Stock Exchange and Deutsche Boerse was expected, as negotiations between the parties broke down a few weeks ago.

News in Brief

  1. UK delivered its Article 50 letter to the EU
  2. Support for Germany's anti-EU party fading
  3. Turkish intelligence not welcome in Germany
  4. US senate approves Montenegro’s Nato bid
  5. Scottish MPs give go ahead to seek referendum
  6. Uber pulls out of Denmark over new taxi-regulation
  7. EU court validates sanctions on Russia's Rosneft
  8. Luxembourg to team up with Ireland in Apple tax appeal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The Idealist QuarterlyCan Progressive Stories Survive Our Post-Truth Era? After-Work Discussion on 6 April
  2. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  3. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  4. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  5. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  6. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  8. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  9. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  10. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  12. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans