[Presentation at the seminar on Euromilitarism, Oorlog is geen Oplossing / VD AMOK / Network No to War – No to NATO, Amsterdam, 14 April 2019]
Last Wednesday the action group 'Stop the War on Migrants' held an unnannounced noise demonstration at the headquarters of European arms giant Airbus in the Dutch city of Leiden. The action, at the day of the annual shareholders meeting of Airbus here in Amsterdam, was in protest of both the arms exports of Airbus to countries in conflict and dictatorships, such as Saudi-Arabia and Egypt, and the role of the company in the militarisation and externalisation of the European borders.
The largest profiteers of EU border security spending have been large European military, security and technology companies: next to Airbus these are foremost Italian Leonardo, French Thales and Spanish Indra. Leonardo, Thales and Airbus are also three of the top four European arms traders, all selling to countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Apart from profiting from both sides of the refugee tragedy, by fueling the reasons people are forced to flee through arms exports and by then providing the equipment to stop them from crossing borders, Airbus and other large European military and security companies have been very influential in shaping EU border policies.
The most important result of this is at the core of the policies: by framing migration as a security threat, it has set the course for introducing the use of military means and personnel as the way forward to deal with it. This securitarization of migration forms the base of current EU migration policies, which rest on four pillars:
– boosting and militarising border security;
– the development of 'smart borders', with the use of biometrics;
– detention and deportation;
Another important aspect, accompanying these pillars is the increasing criminalisation of refugee support work and the obstruction of NGO search and rescue activities, particularly in the Mediterranean.
In this talk I will focus on militarisation and externalisation.
The foundations of these policies were laid with the signing of the Schengen Agreement in 1985, whuch coupled the opening of internal borders within the EU with robust controls at the external borders. Since then European border security has been gradually expanded, escalating into what I would call a 'war on immigration', since 2011, when the Arab Spring gave rise to fears of increased migration to Europe, and especially since the start of the so-called 'refugee crisis' in 2015.
While border security in principle is still a responsibility of the member states, the role of the EU and its institutions has been growing.
The EU border security agency Frontex, established in 2004, is the prime actor in this. Frontex' main task is the coordination of border security efforts of the EU member states. However, it also runs its own joint operations, most of them in the Mediterranean, to stop migration. For this it depends completely on equipment and personnel made availabe by member states, which notoriously didn't live up to their promises.
In recent years Frontex has been expanded into a European Border and Coast Guard, with new tasks and competences:
– Frontex will get a standing corps of 10,000 border guards, ready to be employed in 'crisis' situations;
– Frontex will be able to equipment on its own or in co-ownership with a member state. For this €2.2 billion is reserved in its budget for 2021-2027.
– The new Frontex has a stronger supervisory role in assessing the border security capacities of member states, including giving binding advice to take measures to strengthen these and the possibility of direct interventions in a member state, even without its consent, by decision of the Council of the EU.
– And Frontex will be able to cooperate with third countries, including the possibility of armed Frontex operations on the territory of these countries. The first agreements about this have been or are about te be concluded with Serbia and Macedonia.
This all goes together with a sharp budget increase. In 2027 Frontex is expected to have an annual budget of €1.87 billion euros, over 300 times as much as the 6 million it started with in 2005.
Frontex is also the coordinator of EUROSUR, the darling child of the EU border authorities. It can best be described as “a system of systems”. It connects surveillance data from all EU member states, and beyond the external borders, to paint a real-time picture of the situation at the borders. Launched in December 2013, the European Commission has stated that Eurosur is “a process which will never stop”. It will keep on being expanded, thereby giving the industry a promise of ever ongoing demand for new 'improved' equipment.
Eurosur also shows that the militarisation of border security is not only about the use of traditional military means, such as helicopters and ships, but also, equally as important, about data gathering and exchange.
The rapid expansion of Frontex isn't the only sign of the militarisation of European borders and beyond. Another notable part of this is Operation Sophia, the EU's first outright military operation to stop migration. It consists of navy and air presence before the coast of Libya, due to be reduced to only air presence in the near future after recent disagreements between Italy and others about where refugees picked up by ships in the operation should be taken. Another aspect is the cooperation with and training of the Libyan Coast Guard.
An interesting aspect of Operation Sophia is the involvement of NATO. Its Operation Sea Guardian assisted Sophia with logistical support and the deployment of ships and aircraft. Earlier NATO also assisted the Frontex' Operation Poseidon in the Aegaen Sea. To get a sense of how NATO sees refugees: Philip Breedlove, then supreme commander of the NATO forces in Europe, said around that time that “[t]ogether Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponising migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.
In general this increasing role of NATO, a military alliance with no humanitarian mandate, is exemplary for the militarization of European border security. It also raises questions about accountability, since NATO falls outside EU parliamentary control and complaint mechanisms.
As said, many border security measures are still taken by EU countries themselves. This includes things as sending the military to borders, the construction of border walls and fences and the increasing use of autonomous systems like drones. The EU heavily funds the build up of border security by member states. This has largely gone through three funding mechanism: the Schengen Facility, the External Borders Fund and the Internal Security Fund – Borders.
The Schengen Facility was a temporary instrument to fund border security measures in new EU member states, to make them comply with Schengen requirements.
The External Borders Fund ran from 2007 to 2013 and was aimed at working towards a common integrated border management system. A lot of it was used for national components of the EUROSUR system. And now most funding is done via the Internal Security Fund – Borders, with an emphasis on achieving a uniform control of the external EU borders and information sharing between member states and Frontex.
Through these three funding mechanisms some €4.5 billion have been and will be dispersed to EU member states, from 2004 up to next year. Funding has gone to a wide array of activities and purchases, including vessels, vehicles, helicopters, IT systems and surveillance equipment.
In the next EU budget cycle, which runs from 2021 to 2027, the new Integrated Border Management Fund will take over from the Internal Security Fund. Recently the European Parliament approved the establishment of this fund, with a budget of €7.1 billion euros.
Talking about money, it is hard to put figures to total EU spending on border security and border control. The British thinktank Overseas Development Institute (ODI) made a “conservative estimate […] that at the very least, €1.7 billion was committed to measures inside Europe from 2014 to 2016 in an effort to reduce [migration] flows”, adding that this “presents only a partial picture of the true cost.” Furthermore “in an attempt to deter refugees from setting off on their journeys”, “since December 2014 €15.3 billion has been spent” in third countries. Again, “a very conservative estimate.”
It may seem remarkable that more money goes to third countries, but this will only escalate in the future. While disagreements about migration policies within the EU are getting stronger, for example about the 'distribution' of refugees between member states, and consensus about strengthening the security at the external borders is sometimes undermined by member states' reluctance to provide money, personnel and equipment to put this into practice, there is a strong agreement about cooperation with non-EU-countries to stop refugees earlier on their way towards Europe. This so-called border externalisation. If these refugees don't reach European territory the EU or individual member states don't have to deal with them, they don't have to respect their rights, for example the right to ask for asylum, the don't have to worry about non-refoulement principles and so on. For this the EU forces third countries, notably in Africa, to act as outpost border guards through a carrot and stick-approach. If they cooperate, they can get trade benefits for example; if they don't cooperate, for example development aid is cut back.
Though not new, there has been a growth in border externalisation measures and agreements since 2005 and a massive acceleration since the November 2015 Valletta Europe – Africa Summit. Using a plethora of new instruments, in particular the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), the Migration Partnership Framework and the Refugee Facility for Turkey, the European Union and individual member states are now providing millions of euros for an array of projects.
This includes collaboration with third countries in terms of accepting deported persons, training of their police and border officials, the development of extensive biometric systems, and donations of equipment including helicopters, patrol ships and vehicles, surveillance and monitoring equipment. While many projects are done through the European Commission, a number of individual member states, such as Spain, Italy and Germany also take a lead in funding and supporting border externalisation efforts through bilateral agreements with non-EU-countries.
What makes this collaboration particularly problematic is that many of the governments receiving the support are deeply authoritarian, and the support they are receiving often goes to precisely the state security organs most responsible for repression and abuses of human rights. There seems to be no limits to the EU’s willingness to embrace dictatorial regimes as long as they commit to preventing ‘irregular migration’ reaching Europe’s shores. As a result there have been EU agreements with and funding provided to regimes as infamous as Chad, Niger, Belarus, Libya and Sudan.
Part of this externalisation, that is not that widely recognized, is the increasing military presence of EU and member states in third countries, such as Niger, Libya, Tunisia and Mali. For the EU missions in Niger and Mali, stopping migration has been added as a goal. In Niger, for example, next to this EUCAP Sahel mission there are Italian, French and German troops present to assist in border security, while Germany has donated vehicles and communications equipment and Germany and the Netherlands funded the establishment of a new special border force to stop migration.
Regarding the EU and member states' military presence in those countries I think you can ask yourself if border security is the only and real reason. Aren't other goals playing a role as well, both stated, such as combatting terrorism, and unstated, such as access to commodities, like uranium in Niger?
The complete policy set of militarisation and externalisation of the European borders has devastating consequences. Foremost for refugees, who are forced to look for other, often more dangerous, migration routes, are confronted with ever more violence and/or get stuck in dire circumstances, whether in refugee camps in- our outside Europe or living in illegality. But especially the consequences of externalisation reach much further, from strengthening dictatorships and repression to undermining political and economic stability in the countries concerned as well as diverting and abusing development cooperation money. I think you can really say that this is a case of unashamed neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism which will highly probably end up in more refugees in the future, thereby even harming the stated interests of the EU itself.
As said, the European military and security industry is reaping the profits from all of this. Moreover, this industry helps shape European border security policy through lobbying, through its regular interactions with the European Commission and EU’s border institutions and through its shaping of research policy. The European Organisation for Security (EOS), which includes Thales, Leonardo and Airbus has been most active in lobbying for increased border security. Many of its proposals, such as its push to set up a cross European border security agency have eventually ended up as policy, see the expansion of Frontex.
This is exemplary for the influence of the military and security industry in formulating the foreign and security policy agenda of the EU in general. They shape the direction of policy, by regular meetings with EU and member states' officials and politicians, by writing papers with recommendations, by consequently presenting their equipment and technology as the answer to problems, be they real existing ones or not, by establishing themselves as experts that governments should listen to. Representatives of large arms and security companies commonly participate in official advisory groups for EU policy. And the EU recognizes them as important players in the shaping of policies. Even more, it embraces them, by listening to them, by giving thim influential positions, by having high cadre representatives take part in their meetings and so on.
Apart from border security some clear examples of this influential lobby include:
Funding for first security and now also outright military research; The military and security industry was very influential in shaping EU R&T policies for security and military research. Representatives of large military and security companies have been a large part of all official advisory bodies on R&T funding.
The establishment of the European Defence Fund. This is not completely finalized, next Thursday there will be a crucial vote in EP, but it will be in a short term. Through the fund the EU provides 13 billion euros from 2021-2027 for the development of new arms. A pilot programme, with a budget of 590 million euros, is already up and running. The regulation for this fund states that “[t]he general objective […] is to foster the competitiveness, efficiency and innovation capacity of the European defence industry”. In other words: more arms exports to countries outside the EU.
Opening up funding instruments for foreign and development policy to military use. This includes the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace, which was originally meant for conflict prevention and peace building, and the new European Peace Facility, an off-budget fund to finance EU military missions and the build-up of military and security infrastructure in development countries.
There is much more to say about all this, on the websites of Stop Wapenhandel
and the Transnational Institute
you can find a series of reports and articles on European border militarisation and externalisation, the role of the military and security industry, involvement of NATO, and the connection with other issues, such as climate change.
To conclude: European border security policies have devastating consequences for refugees and for the world outside Europe, they are untenable and only fuel bigger problems in the future. Yet, for the military and security industry they represent a growing market and for the EU they act as a catalyst for militarisation and increasing military presence outside Europe.