The emergence of a European security-industrial complex

The emergence of a European security-industrial complex


Written by: Harmit Athwal

The EU is set to spend billions of euros on ‘security research’. With little accountability, European multinational corporations will be researching new techniques of surveillance, identification and profiling, to be directed mainly at migrants and terrorist suspects.

A new report by Statetwatch and the Transnational Institute makes depressing reading for those concerned with issues of civil liberties and privacy. Arming Big Brother: the EU’s Security Research Programme provides a glimpse into the future envisaged by those that run Europe.

The report examines the emergence of a security-industrial complex in Europe and the development of the EU Security Research Programme (ESRP). In a bid to compete with US rivals, the EU is committing at least 65 billion euros to security research to ensure a ‘level playing field’ for European multinational companies. According to the report, written by Ben Hayes, the ESRP’s vision is of a ‘Europe in which everybody is registered, fingerprinted and profiled; in which all communication and movement is monitored and recorded for law enforcement purposes; and in which we are increasingly policed by military force rather than civilian consent’.

How it all began

The emergence of the ESRP appears to have been a long and secretive process. It was established in July 2001 after a European Commission advisory group recommended that EU states progressively ‘improve their military capabilities’. The advisory group included representatives from Europe’s four biggest arms companies. A related ‘Group of Personalities’ (GoP) – or ‘Group of Dr Strangeloves’, as Tony Bunyan of Statewatch has dubbed them – was also set up, with representatives from the arms industries, to oversee the development of the ESRP. According to the report, the GoP ‘only met twice and there exists very little public information about its proceedings’.

The GoP published a report in March 2004, ‘Research for a Secure Europe’, which found that the main threats to the EU were ‘terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failed states, regional conflicts and organised crime’ and wondered ‘why European security research should not be funded at a level similar to the US’. By this time, the European Commission had already established a 65 million euro budget line for the ESRP. The report finds that: ‘There was no apparent consultation of the EU member states (the Council) or the European or national parliaments, as is normal in the establishment of EU budget lines.’

Current research projects

Under the initial programme, twenty-four projects were funded. Military organisations or companies led seventeen out of the twenty-four projects, with the ‘big four’ European arms companies having ‘done particularly well’. Ten of the projects concerned surveillance of one kind or another and three concerned EU border controls. Some examples of research projects are:

  • SOBCAH (Surveillance of Borders, Coastlines and Harbours), renamed ‘Safer European borders’ by the Commission, led by the Italian company Galileo Avionica (Finmeccanica), will ‘tackle the European border surveillance problem’ and the ‘6,000 km of land borders and 85,000 km of coastlines, with possibilities for access for illegal migrants, drug smugglers and terrorists’.
  • The TERASEC project will improve ‘homeland security’ by delivering a new technology ‘to detect threats, explosives, pathogens and chemicals hidden by a person or inside an object such as letters or luggage’.
  • The PROBANT project, led by French aerospace and defence contractor Satimo, concerns the ‘visualization and tracking of people inside buildings’ and the development of a ‘powerful tool to guide security forces in surveillance and crisis management’.
  • The ISCAPS project (Integrated Surveillance of Crowded Areas and Public Spaces), run by Sagem along with BAE systems, will produce surveillance technology for ‘restricted areas in which strict controls and full biometric identification can be performed at entry points’.
The future

The ESRP will be fully operational as early as 2007 with minimum funding of 1 billion euros per year. Hayes concludes that: ‘there has been precious little debate about the establishment of the ESRP or the way in which technology, much of it military, is steadily transforming the way in which democratic states are governed … The idea that private companies, run for profit, should be accorded an official status in the EU goes unchallenged. The result is that the arms industry is shaping not just EU security research, but EU security policy.’

Related links


Arming Big Brother: The EU’s Security Research Programme (pdf file, 528Kb)

Transnational Institute

Arming Big Brother: the EU's Security Research Programme is available direct from Statewatch or the Transnational Institute or as PDF link above.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

One thought on “The emergence of a European security-industrial complex

  1. Why should any citizen be astonished at these proposed measures?. Corporate business is behind most of what happens in Europe and the UK these days. Any government who works “closely” with the private sector is basically eroding away our civil liberties to technocrats whose only reason for existence is to increase the profits of their shareholders. Never in the history of humanity do we face such control over our lives, it’s frightening.

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