EU and military and security industry meet on future of EUROSUR

On 6 and 7 February EU and member states’ officials meet up with military and security companies for the ‘Industry Day on Border Surveillance and Integrated Border Management’ in Brussels. The aim of the day is to discuss the future development of EUROSUR, the EU border monitoring and surveillance system. This shows again the close connections between the EU and the European military and security industry and the influence the industry has on EU border policies.
The Industry Day, organised by the Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) of the European Commission, includes speeches and presentations by leading officials from DG HOME, the border security agency Frontex and the European Defence Agency. A speech on ‘The role of industry’ will be delivered by Giorgio Gulienetti, Head of National and International Technical Collaborations with Italian arms producer Leonardo (formerly Finmeccanica) and chair of the Integrated Border Security Working Group of the European Organisation for Security (EOS). EOS is one of the main lobby organisations of the European military and security industry.
EUROSUR, the overall European border surveillance ‘system of systems’, officially launched in December 2013 after years of preparations. It provides an exchange of real time images and data between EU member states through a network of National Coordination Centers, coordinated by Frontex, to create a ‘situational picture’ of the EU external borders and beyond. The European Commission stated that EUROSUR is “a process which will never stop” and will always require improvements, thereby signaling to the military and security industry the promise of an ever ongoing demand for new ‘improved’ equipment.
However, the industry not only profits from EUROSUR, it was also deeply involved in its creation and initial development. For years EOS has put a lot of emphasis on EUROSUR, and data sharing in general, with harmonisation between member states and expansion being core objectives to get more funding. The role in EUROSUR the industry envisions for itself was echoed by Cecilia Malmström, then European Commissioner for Home Affairs, during a roundtable organised by EOS in February 2011: “In EUROSUR the industry plays an important role. Its technical expertise is extremely valid to detect needed technologies. We still need more P-P [public-private] cooperation to better detail the systems.”
A part of the Industry Day is reserved for presentations of EU funded research projects connected to EUROSUR. The development of EUROSUR is one of the main aims of security research under Horizon 2020, the current cycle (2014-2020) for EU research funding, as well as of its predecessor, Framework Programme 7. One of the projects presented is ROBORDER, aimed at developing “a fully-functional autonomous border surveillance system with unmanned mobile robots including aerial, water surface, underwater and ground vehicles”, which got €8 million EU funding under Horizon 2020.
EU funding for security research is one of the success stories of the military and security industry, its allies and their common powerful lobby. Border security and border control-related projects became a central focus of the funding programmes, mirroring both the increasing importance the EU attaches to these policy areas and the interconnected importance the industry places on this. An importance which resounds in new EU funding for military research, part of the European Defence Fund, set up on the base of an advisory report by a Group of Personalities, initiated by the European Commission and dominated by representatives of the European military and security industry.
The first research project financed under the European Defence Fund is OCEAN2020. One of the main aims of OCEAN2020 is the integration of unmanned naval platforms (drones) in maritime surveillance and interdiction missions. Leonardo leads the project consortium, which also includes other major profiteers of EU border security research as French arms giant Safran, Spanish technology Indra and the Dutch research institution TNO.
Recent research by Statewatch and Vredesactie confirmed earlier findings that the military and security industry in general has an influential position in shaping EU military and security policies. Regarding border and migration policies it was succesful in pushing these towards a discourse of treating migration and refugees as a security threat and of militarisation of border security as the ‘answer’. Large companies and lobby organisations, mainly EOS and the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), through lobbying, regular interactions with EU’s border institutions and their shaping of research policy have helped create a playing field very beneficial for themselves. According to EOS and ASD had over 40 meetings with the European Commission since November 2014.
The EU is a welcoming partner in this, organising meetings such as this Industry Day and regularly participating with high officials in industry organised events with companies and lobby organisations. Just a few days earlier, on 1 February, the European Defency Agency held a ‘Workshop on Maritime Surveillance industrial long term perspectives’, a subject closely connected to border security, especially in the Mediterranean. Nine companies presented their views at the workshop in Brussels, with over 50 representatives from Member States, industry and other institutions present.
Many proposals from the side of the industry have eventually, mostly in a trickled-down version, been reflected in EU policy. The mutual influence between industry and EU bodies in developing policies forms one of the cornerstones of the border security industrial complex. The ‘Industry Day on Border Surveillance and Integrated Border Management’ fits seamlessly into this pattern. DG HOME writes that “on a longer term the workshop would set the foundations of an improved cooperation with research and industry communities in the area of border surveillance and border management.” One wonders how much closer the EU and the industry can still get.
Meanwhile the resulting EU border and migration policies have far-reaching consequences for refugees. Increasing and militarising border security means more violence and repression against them. It also forces them to look for other, often more dangerous routes, leading to more deaths, and drives them in the hands of criminal smuggling networks. Others are left living as ‘illegal’ in dire circumstances or end up in detention and/or get deported back to the countries they have fled from.
[MA, 3 February 2018]