Wednesday

12th May 2021

MEPs bar WMD and killer robots from new EU arms fund

  • White phosphorus, when used on citizens instead of as a smoke screen, can severely damage eyes and skin (Photo: Cluster Munition Coalition)

Members of the European Parliament's industry and research committee decided on Wednesday (21 February) that the development of small arms for export purposes should not be excluded from a new EU fund for defence research.

They did list, however, some other weapon types that must not be supported with EU taxpayer money.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • The European Parliament is concerned with the proliferation of weapons, but its industry committee does not want to exclude small arms and light weapons from the new EU fund (Photo: Maja Zlatevska, Dnevnik)

The committee voted on a Commission proposal for a €500m European Defence Industrial Development Programme.

The original commission proposal, as well as the bill's version supported by national governments, did not address whether controversial weapon types should be eligible.

In a 105-word amendment, MEPs decided to specifically bar projects related to weapons of mass destruction from eligibility for EU funding, as well as fully autonomous weapons – known colloquially as 'killer robots'.

They said that projects "in relation to weapons of mass destruction and related warhead technologies" should not be eligible for funding, and neither should those "in relation to banned weapons and munitions".

Other red lines included weapons not compliant with international humanitarian law, like cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines – as well as "fully autonomous weapons that enable strikes to be carried out without human control over the targeting and engagement decisions".

Weapons export

MEPs had to choose between two versions of the amendment, and rejected the one which excluded projects related to light weapons mainly exported out of the EU.

"Product related actions in relation to small arms and light weapons, when they are developed mainly for export purposes, i.e. where no member state has expressed a requirement for the action to be carried out, are not eligible," said the amendment, tabled by mostly left-leaning MEPs, which was rejected.

That could mean in theory that weapons developed with EU taxpayer money end up in conflict zones abroad.

The European Parliament has recently spoken out on arms exports, acknowledging in a September 2017 resolution that the 28 EU member states are "collectively the second largest arms supplier in the world after the USA".

In that same resolution, a majority of 386 MEPs said they were "concerned that the proliferation of weapon systems in wartime and in situations with significant political tension" – and that "arms exports and transfers have an impact on human security, human rights, democracy, good governance and socio-economic development".

However, the committee MEPs on Wednesday opted for the version of the amendment that did not rule out using the defence fund for light weapons mainly developed for export.

Incendiary weapons

MEPs also decided not to specify the eligibility of so-called incendiary weapons.

The rejected text said that white phosphorus and depleted uranium ammunitions should be explicitly ruled out from the fund – but in the end MEPs decided to refer only to a United Nations treaty, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

The final text merely stated that "incendiary weapons in accordance with Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons ... are not eligible", not mentioning white phosphorus or depleted uranium separately.

The use of white phosphorus munition can cause severe skin burns and eye damage.

However, there is no global agreement if white phosphorus munition always counts as an incendiary weapon under the convention.

A similar situation exists for depleted uranium ammunitions, which are not specifically governed by international arms control treaties.

Ten years ago, a majority in the European parliament asked EU and NATO member states to place a ban – "or, at the very least, a moratorium" – on the use of depleted uranium weapons.

The United Kingdom and France however have opposed resolutions in the United Nations on depleted uranium weapons – along with the United States and Israel.

Plenary vote next

The amended version of centre-right French MEP Francoise Grossetete's draft version of the regulation which will set up the fund, was adopted on Wednesday with 49 votes in favour, and twelve against.

The committee vote will be followed by a vote in plenary, where amendments may still be tabled.

Then, following the vote in Strasbourg, Grossetete will begin negotiations with the national governments and the commission on the final version of the bill.

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.

'Killer robots' are not about Terminator

A European signatory of an open letter about autonomous weapons says the imagery of fictional killer robots is distracting from a seriously dangerous issue.

Opinion

EU guns: invisible but powerful factor in Yemen war

More than 20 million Yemenis are now in need of humanitarian assistance, in an ongoing conflict partly fought with Saudi weapons sourced from EU member states - notably the UK and France.

News in Brief

  1. Israeli rockets kill 20 people in Gaza retaliation
  2. No more EU expulsions likely over Russia bomb attacks
  3. EU ready to ignore Hungary veto on Hong Kong
  4. Borrell admits EU neglect of Western Balkans
  5. Macron accused of 'cowardice and deceit' in military letter
  6. EU citizens in UK applying for settled status face legal limbo
  7. Netherlands gives €2bn to offshore carbon storage project
  8. Germany will allow Johnson & Johnson vaccine for all ages

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. Russia penetrated Merkel's 'inner circle', Khodorkovsky says
  2. First recovery euros could be paid out in July
  3. Commission wants help for Italy after weekend's migrant arrivals
  4. Mercosur trade deal will fuel 'poison pesticides' back into EU
  5. Can new Iran talks avoid mistakes of the original JCPOA?
  6. EU and US urge Israel to defuse Jerusalem violence
  7. Frontex 'mislabelling minors as adults' on Greek islands
  8. Has Albania really met the 15 tests to join the EU? No

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us