Saturday

17th Nov 2018

MEPs delay debate about 'killer robots'

  • A minority of MEPs is worried of so-called killer robots being developed with EU money (Photo: Alyse & Remi)

The European Parliament has postponed a debate on autonomous weapons systems, known colloquially as 'killer robots' – as it gets ready to vote on a €500m fund for military development.

A debate about the issue was included in an earlier version of the agenda for this week's plenary session in Strasbourg – the last one before a crucial United Nations meeting.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • A previous version of this week's plenary agenda featured a debate on autonomous weapons systems (Photo: Peter Teffer)

However, it was taken off to make place for a debate on road safety and cleaner transport.

"It will probably come back in September with more luck," said a spokesman for the parliament's largest political group, the European People's Party (EPP).

A spokesman for the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedoms said that mostly left-leaning MEPs wanted to discuss it.

"Our group has other priorities this session," he noted.

A spokesman for far-left GUE/NGL told EUobserver it was the second time a debate on killer robots was postponed.

At the opening of the plenary on Monday, the Greens tried to force the issue onto the agenda by requesting a vote to change the agenda.

However, the request to discuss autonomous weapons this week was rejected with 126 MEPs in favour and 158 against.

"The technical development of killer robots is advancing extremely fast," Reinhard Buetikofer, German Green MEP, told EUobserver in a written statement.

"It is the responsibility of parliaments to discuss and enforce international regulation that can help preventing the emergence of a brave new world of fully autonomous armaments that could be employed by every dictator or every unscrupulous warlord to kill human beings by the thousands on the basis of algorithms," he added.

"International regulation has to be agreed before the development gets completely out of hand," said the MEP.

EU-funded killer robots?

The matter of autonomous weapons systems is all the more relevant this week, because the parliament is voting on a €500m EU fund that will be available for military consortia in 2019 and 2020.

Originally, a majority of the parliament had adopted an amendment to the fund's legal basis, saying that certain categories of military development should be excluded from the fund's eligibility.

Among those categories the MEPs wanted to bar from eligibility were weapons of mass destruction, cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines, but also "fully autonomous weapons that enable strikes to be carried out without human control over the targeting and engagement decisions".

However, in negotiations with the European Commission and the Council of the EU – which represents national government – the amendment was scrapped.

Instead, the negotiators settled on including only a 'recital' – a paragraph in the legislation that sets out the reasons for a law.

It said merely that the eligibility of projects for products "that are specifically designed to carry out lethal strikes without any human control over the engagement decisions" should be "subject to developments in international law".

Left-wing German MEP Sabine Loesing said in an emailed statement that allowing the financing of lethal autonomous weapons systems was "scandalous".

She noted that the MEP that negotiated on behalf of the parliament, centre-right French MEP Francoise Grossetete (EPP) "disregarded the EP's negotiating mandate".

"We strictly reject the development, proliferation and promotion of such autonomous weapons and will therefore vote against the EDIDP," said Loesing, referring to the acronym of the fund's official name, the European Defence Industrial Development Programme.

This website has asked Grossetete to explain why she gave up the parliament's amendment on eligibility, but received no response.

On Monday (2 July), the political deal was discussed in Strasbourg.

Grossetete did not mention why the eligibility amendment was scrapped, but she also was not asked about it.

Neither Green nor GUE members referred to autonomous weapons systems in their speeches. Instead, most of the left-leaning MEPs rejected the use of EU funds for military ends altogether.

The delay of the debate came after a group of scientists as well as citizens' groups called on MEPs to reject the funding programme, and in particular the possibility for autonomous weapons to be funded.

It also is not on the agenda for the upcoming Nato summit in Brussels, later this month, a Nato official told this website.

At the end of August, experts will meet in Geneva to discuss lethal autonomous weapons systems, but an international ban – requested by MEPs in 2014 – is still far off.

'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.

Mogherini's tech experts talk more freely in secret

The EU's foreign service says there are no "records" of the Global Tech Panel meetings, but acknowledged foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini writes summary letters. Five MEPs worried about killer robots suggest the panel's composition is skewed.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU

The justice commissioner says the accommodation-rental website will better inform users about prices, and about the legal status of their 'hosts'. Facebook, however, could face sanctions if it doesn't comply with EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  2. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  3. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  4. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  5. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  6. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  7. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  8. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us