Sunday

16th Jan 2022

Defence firms 'reap benefits' of advice to EU

  • US navy officers with a MK 18 MOD 2 Swordfish, a type of unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV). The EU is funding research into how to use such UUV's to enhance 'situational awareness in a maritime environment' (Photo: U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet)

Six beneficiaries of a €35m EU grant set up following the advice of a group of experts which called for more EU-level defence research had members on that group.

"This raises serious concerns about a conflict of interests," said peace activist Bram Vranken, of the Belgian group Vredesactie (Peace Action).

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  • The Ocean2020 project will receive €35m in EU funding (Photo: Daniel Hoherd)

The European Defence Agency (EDA) however said that nothing improper has happened.

"[There] is nothing wrong [with] express[ing] your views upfront at a strategic level and later on to participate under competition," said Dirk Tielbuerger, the EDA's head of unit for the funding programme in question.

The programme, paid from the EU budget, is called the Preparatory Action for Defence Research (PADR).

It will fund some €90m in total over a three-year period, and is part of a broader effort to set up a European Defence Fund, announced last year.

This in turn followed a report published in 2016, by the so-called Group of Personalities – a collection of defence experts and politicians.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was a member, as well as former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt and centre-right German MEP Michael Gahler.

However, the majority of members came from Europe's defence industry and research institutes.

According to minutes of the Group of Personalities' second meeting – made public after an access to document request by campaigner Vranken – the group had a role "in overcoming resistance towards a defence research programme".

In its final report, dated February 2016, the group backed the idea of EU-level funding of defence research projects, and also gave advice on how a Preparatory Action (PA) programme should look.

"The PA should aim at providing full 100 percent coverage of the eligible direct costs, plus a percentage higher than 25 percent – and surely no lower than that of non-EU competitors – for additional costs," the report said.

It added that the programme would need "a sufficient budget", and suggested between €75m and €100m.

Drones and unmanned submarines

Fast-forward two years, and €35m of funding was granted through the Preparatory Action on a consortium that will research integrating the use of drones and unmanned submarines to improve maritime surveillance.

The consortium of the project, called Ocean2020, is led by the Italian company Leonardo S.p.A. - formerly Finmeccanica.

Former CEO of Finmeccanica, Mauro Moretti, was one of the members of the Group of Personalities.

The Ocean2020 consortium consists of 42 partners from 15 EU countries.

In total four companies and two research institutes who are part of the consortium, also had members of the Group of Personalities.

Antoine Bouvier, CEO of MBDA, was one of them.

MBDA spokesman Jean Dupont responded to questions from EUobserver by email.

"This group [of personalities] did not participate in the formal set up of the Preparatory Action for Defence Research, nor the selection and evaluation of projects that will receive grants from this fund," said Dupont.

He added that the consortium was selected "on rigorous criteria of selection and after a regular competition".

"There is therefore no link between the participation of MBDA in the GoP and its participation to the Ocean 2020 consortium," said the MBDA spokesman.

Dirk Tielbuerger, the official of the European Defence Agency, also saw no problem, because the beneficiaries of the programme were selected in a competition and based on independent criteria.

"The group of personalities offered general and strategic advice what in principle would be needed," he told EUobserver in a phone interview.

"In the end the commission says what kind of research will be financed, and we evaluate which is the best proposal together with independent experts," Tielbuerger added.

But the Belgian peace movement activist disagreed.

"It is highly problematic that arms companies are involved in the decision making process in the first place," he told this website in an email.

"It is even more worrying that these same companies who proposed a EU research programme, are now the ones reaping the main benefits."

Even if the companies had no influence on who got part of the pie, they contributed to making sure there would be a pie.

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