Monday

22nd Jan 2018

Opinion

A chance to change EU security research policy for the better

  • Research projects have included biometric capture and identification technologies. (Photo: The U.S. Army)

By 2020, the European Union will have invested over €3 billion in the European security research programme, which is supposed to develop “innovative technologies and solutions that address security gaps and lead to a reduction in the risk from security threats.”

In practice, the programme has been dominated by corporations and major national research institutes who seem intent on introducing a surveillance society in the name of public security.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

This is a particularly worrying prospect in a Europe where increasingly illiberal governments have used emergency situations to ensure “exceptional and temporary powers [are] permanently embedded in ordinary criminal law.”

Research projects have included multi-million-euro investigations into border control robots and drones, biometric capture and identification technologies, new data-mining and predictive analysis systems for the police, all manner of remote sensing equipment to discover drugs, explosives, concealed people or goods, and even ways to transform public institutions to make them more accepting of new security “innovations”.

By December 2016, some €1.9 billion of the security research budget had been spent through the 2007-13 Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and its successor, Horizon 2020. The biggest recipients have been some of Europe’s major security, defence and technology corporations.

Amongst them are Thales (€33m in public funding), Selex (€23.2m), Airbus (€17.8m), Indra (€12.3m) and Atos (€7.6m); and research institutes such as Germany’s Fraunhofer (€66m), Netherlands-based TNO (€33.6m), the Swedish Defence Research Institute (€33.5m) and France’s Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (over €22m).

Agenda-setting

Many of these organisations have held or do hold seats on the European Commission’s ‘Protection and Security Advisory Group’ (PASAG), the agenda-setting advisory panel that draws up security research work programmes, on which the influence of corporate and other interest groups has been marked.

Thus, the Commission’s recent appointment of a former official from the arms industry lobby group ASD to the group, to increase “industry representation”, seems somewhat absurd to long-term observers of EU security policy.

The security research programme was established in 2005 at the behest of a "group of personalities", featuring EU and member state officials alongside representatives from arms and technology companies.

These "personalities" were hoping to ride the "homeland security" wave that had arisen in Israel and the USA following the end of the Cold War, with subsequent development shaped by further proposals from informal public-private groups, the work of the PASAG, and industry lobbying.

A 2012 European Commission paper said it loud and clear: "A competitive EU security industry is the conditio sine qua non of any viable European security policy and for economic growth in general."

Yet, while the Commission has long been enthusiastic about the corporate contribution to security policy, democracy and transparency have been somewhat lower on the EU’s list of priorities - something well-demonstrated by a host of new security systems introduced in recent years.

For example, the development of national Passenger Name Record (PNR) systems for air passenger surveillance and profiling were helped along with at least €50 million by the Commission, years before an EU directive was finally agreed in April 2016.

Corporate benefits

The PNR directive will face serious questioning following a recent negative European Court of Justice opinion on the proposed EU-Canada PNR agreement, and politicians in favour of the directive will no doubt intervene, citing its necessity for fighting crime and terrorism - but the potential profits for their favoured corporations may also play a role.

The Eurosur border surveillance system was in development for at least five years before legislation was approved in 2013, with numerous EU research projects helping put the pieces in place before Portuguese firm GMV won the multi-million-euro maintenance contract.

The forthcoming “smart borders” project, aiming to automate border controls and introduce biometric registration for all non-EU citizens, has followed a similar path - research projects helped develop the technology, but the legislation is only just coming up for adoption.

New technologies can undoubtedly make a significant contribution to empowering individuals and democratising societies - but when publicly-funded research and development is driven by profit-hungry corporations offering frightening possibilities to authoritarian-minded governments, the processes at work must be seriously questioned.

In this respect it is a sad reflection that, so far, the greatest constraint on the development of the new homeland security seems to have been bureaucratic inefficiency and projects’ impracticality.

For instance, the European Court of Auditors found that national implementation of the External Borders Fund was seriously deficient, while the formal evaluation of the 2007-13 security research programme found that very few of the projects looked likely to result in concrete outputs.

Over the next two-and-a-half years, the priorities and functioning of the EU’s budgets for security policy and research will be up for debate as the EU institutions head towards establishing new budgets from 2020 onwards - offering a significant opportunity to prioritise human rights, democracy, transparency and equality.

In July 2017, a wide variety of civil society organisations published an initial position paper on future EU research policy, demanding that the security theme “institutes a meaningful balance between innovative security technologies on the one hand and research into fundamental rights, alternatives and root causes on the other.”

This is a good start, but coordinated efforts amongst civil society and progressive politicians - not to mention significant public pressure - will be required to ensure that the EU’s security policy stops prioritising corporate domination and technological determinism.

Chris Jones is a researcher for Statewatch, a civil liberties charity based in the UK, where he has worked since 2010. His work examines policing, migration, military and security issues in the UK and EU.

Security and defence to top EU summit

Pressure is mounting for social media platforms to remove any online content deemed to incite terrorism. Draft conclusions, seen by EUobserver, have made the issue a top priority in leaders' talks next week.

IT security system threatens EU rights

EU commission wants to link up all information systems on security, border, and migration, drawing a rebuke from own rights agency.

Taking full benefit of supercomputers in Europe

Newly-announced financial help for so-called 'supercomputers' can help both EU member states, and small and medium-sized companies to grow - in fields such as health diagnostics, driverless cars and even earthquake predicting.

Ten Commandments to overcome the EU's many crises

A series of missteps - from the faulty institutional infrastructure of the euro, to the migration crisis - have left the EU battered and in near crisis. Here are ten steps to re-democratise the union.

EU's 'old men' must pressure Poland on abortion rights

Despite fresh crackdowns on Poland's already restrictive abortion laws, EU commission president Juncker did not raise the issue with the new Polish PM Morawiecki - perhaps because it was an all-male event?

News in Brief

  1. Germany confirms attendance at air quality summit
  2. Nearly half of 'fixed' Dieselgate cars show problems
  3. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook up hate speech deletion
  4. UK mulls bridge to France
  5. German far-right float anti-asylum bill
  6. EU Parliament to investigate glyphosate-decision process
  7. 'Mutagenesis' falls outside EU's GMO rules, says EU top lawyer
  8. Decision on Polish MEP's Nazi-era slur postponed

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. Middle East, Messi and missing MEPs on the agenda This WEEK
  2. Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive
  3. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems
  4. UK loses EU satellite centre to Spain
  5. Pay into EU budget for market access, Macron tells May
  6. Ethiopian regime to get EU migrants' names
  7. EU to lend Greece up to €7bn more next week
  8. Nato prepares to take in Macedonia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  2. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  3. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  4. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  5. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  7. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  8. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  9. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  10. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives