At a time when European Union budgets are threatened by Brexit, Italian political instability and an unfinished economic crisis, the European Commission’s proposal for triple funding for borders, migration and asylum suggests an unusual consensus in favor of border security.
The increase in funding gained considerable press attention, but the role of the European military and security industry in shaping these policies and then reaping the plentiful financial rewards remains largely underexposed.
Research by the United Kingdom’s Statewatch and Belgian NGO “Vredesactie” shows how successful these industries have been in shaping E.U. military and security policies. Large European arms companies, such as Airbus (Pan-European), Leonardo (Italian, formerly called Finmeccanica) and Thales (French) engage in extensive lobbying. Their lobby associations, notably the European Organisation for Security (EOS) and the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), have gained influence to the point that their proposals are sometimes adopted almost wholesale by E.U. bodies.
E.U. and member states’ officials and industry executives forge strong relationships through a constant cycle of congresses, conferences, roundtables, security fairs and industry days by E.U. border agency Frontex. Since December 2014, senior European Commission officials met with EOS 15 times and ASD 29 times, as well as holding many meetings with Airbus (131), Leonardo (25) and Thales (18).
Concrete proposals that were first advocated by the industry, such as the establishment of a European border guard and of the E.U.-wide border monitoring system EUROSUR, eventually become E.U. policies. These then create the demand that fuels an expanding global border security market, valued at more than 16 billion euros ($18.7 billion) in 2017 and estimated to grow 8 percent annually in coming years.
According to Martin Lemberg-Pedersen at the Aalborg University in Copenhagen, arms companies “establish themselves as experts on border security, and use this position to frame immigration to Europe as leading to ever more security threats in need of ever more” purchases of the products they sell.
The increasing focus on exporting border control measures to countries neighboring Europe has further expanded the market, as my recent report “Expanding the Fortress” for the research groups Stop Wapenhandel and the Transnational Institute (TNI) shows.
Many non-E.U.-countries, especially in Africa, get donations of border security equipment or funding for such purchases. Some examples include donations of large amounts of equipment from Airbus and Hensoldt (the former border security division of Airbus) to Tunisia by Germany, Italian donations of patrol boats from shipbuilder Intermarine to Libya and the E.U.-funded purchase of six vessels from Dutch shipbuilder Damen to Turkey, to strengthen the capacities of its coast guard.
Despite the austerity measures in place in some areas of Europe, the increase in funding for militarizing border security seems to be limitless. Frontex, which now has new powers to buy its own equipment, could see its current annual budget of 320 million euros ($375 million) increase almost sixfold to 1.87 billion euros ($2.19 billion) by 2027.
During 2018, Frontex will test two military drones for maritime border surveillance in the Mediterranean Sea: the Heron from Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the Falco from Leonardo. IAI will be paid 4.75 million euros ($5.57 million) for 600 hours of trial flights, while Leonardo will secure 1.7 million euros ($2 million) for 300 hours of trial flights.
The proposed E.U. Integrated Border Management Fund will have a 9.3 billion euro ($10.9 billion) budget for 2021–27, almost double the combined budget of its predecessors for the period 2004–20 (External Borders Fund, the Internal Security Fund – Borders and the Schengen Facility). With these funds, member states have purchased thousands of vehicles for border patrol, dozens of patrol vessels, airplanes, border surveillance systems, cameras, thermal vision equipment, biometric and I.T. systems – many bought from European arms and security firms.
In the case of Finland and Romania, E.U.-financed helicopter purchases came from Airbus, while Leonardo delivered helicopters to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, Latvia and Malta. This has led to the perverse outcome that some of these companies profit from both sides of the refugee tragedy. As our 2016 report “Border Wars” shows, some firms are both arming countries at war, repressive regimes and human rights violators in the Middle East and North Africa – thereby fueling the reasons people are forced to flee – and then winning the contracts to prevent refugees entering Europe.
The preferential role for industry is no coincidence nor just the result of the industry’s own efforts. In fact, it is a stated objective of the E.U. to support the global competitiveness of the European military and security industry. And the E.U. does all it can to further intensify the close ties.
In February 2018, for example, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG Home) organized an “Industry Day on Border Surveillance and Integrated Border Management” in which Giorgi Gulienetti of Italian arms firm Leonardo gave a keynote address. Later DG Home wrote that it hoped the day “on a longer term […] would set the foundations of an improved cooperation with research and industry communities in the area of border surveillance and border management.”
While the proposed increases of the E.U. border security and control budget clearly respond to a number of factors, the increasing role, funding and support for industry will ensure that they become one of the few beneficiaries from the refugee “crisis.” Ultimately this is not just a concern about corporate influence but also about entrenching a militarized response to a complex crisis. This will do little to tackle the root causes of the refugee crisis but rather provides another arena for profiteering from human suffering.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Refugees Deeply.