OPINIE 'How the arms industry is staging a European coup'

Dit opiniestuk van Vredesactie verscheen in het Engels op EurActive.

The EU is increasingly taking a pro-military stance, as the arms lobby exercises more influence. The election of Antoni Tajani last week as European Parliament president means the arms industry’s influence will grow further in the coming years, warns Bram Vranken.

On 17 January 1961, then US President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the dangers of the  military-industrial complex. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Exactly 56 years later Eisenhower’s warning is more poignant than ever. On Tuesday 17 January, Antonio Tajani, well known for his pro-arms industry stance, was elected as new president of the European Parliament.

In 2013, Tajani said “he wanted to promote the arms industry”. As European Commissioner, Tajani outlined several policy schemes aimed at “strengthening the European defence industry”.

It’s no coincidence that Tajani is honorary president of the Sky and Space Intergroup, which is  hosted by the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), the most important lobby group of the European arms industry.

Money for weapons, not for social security

Already the EU is taking a turn for the worse. In November, the European Commission proposed a European Defence Action Plan. The aim of this plan is to “focus on capability needs and support the European defence industry”. Not surprisingly, the European Defence Action Plan almost exactly mirrors the propositions made in a position paper published in July by ASD Europe.

The proposed measures seriously endanger the EU as a civilian power. The Commission wants to give €3.5 billion to the arms industry to develop new military technologies from 2021 onward.  Additionally, the Commission proposes to stimulate member states to spend more on defence by deducting the costs of cooperative weapon programmes from their budgetary deficits.

In other words, while member states are forced to cut spending on social security, education and health care, spending on weapons would be exempt from any budgetary discipline. While millions of people in Europe have suffered from destitution and poverty due to the harsh austerity measures, the European Commission now cynically proposes to give billions of euros to the arms industry.

No political vision

Nobody knows where these weapons will be used. There barely is a common European foreign policy. Member states are deeply divided on how to tackle the crises in the Middle East. Without a strategic vision, financing military related programmes will only serve the short term interest of the arms industry.

But that seems exactly the European Commission’s objective. “The European Union needs a strong and competitive arms industry”, is the mantra the European Commission has been repeating over and over again.

The EU is confronted with dazzling problems. Populism is on the rise, the middle class is in crisis, inequality has never been higher and we are confronted with a catastrophic climate crisis. None of these problems will be solved by investing more in weapons.

On the contrary, military expenditure forms a huge opportunity cost to the detriment of billions of people around the world. According to research institute SIPRI, only 10% of global military expenditure would be enough to provide free and quality education (Sustainable Development Goal 4).

To eradicate poverty and hunger (SDGs 1 and 2) another 10% of the global military budgets would be sufficient. All SDGs could be accomplished by less than half of the worldwide military budget.

Eisenhower continued his speech in 1961 by saying that “only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together”.

That a pro-arms industry MEP is now leading the representative body of the European citizenry is extremely worrying.