A study commissioned by the European Parliament’s ‘Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs’ policy department has produced a damning indictment of the European Security Research Programme (ESRP), reiterating and confirming many of the findings in Statewatch and TNI’s earlier Neoconopticon report.

The key findings of the European Parliament study are:
  • With regard to the “public-private dialogue”: EU security research and development activities have been mainly driven by a concern to bring together representatives from the ministries of Defence and Interior of the Member States and Associate countries, and representatives of major companies from the defence and security industries. In the process, representatives from civil society and parliamentarians, as well as bodies and organisations in charge of civil liberties and fundamental freedoms, including data protection authorities and fundamental rights bodies, have been largely sidestepped. The outcome of this process is a dialogue that is limited in its scope, addressing security research through the concerns of security agencies and services and the industry, without taking into account the requirements flowing from the EU’s internal area of freedom.
  • With regard to security research undertaken in the framework of FP7-Security theme: an overview of current security research projects sponsored through FP7 show an unequal distribution of funding, which is concentrated on a small number of participating countries and a small number of organisations, mostly major defence and security companies and applied research institutions. In addition, a large proportion of these projects is dedicated to developing technologies of surveillance, to the detriment of a broader reflection on the impact of such technologies for citizens and persons concerned with the EU’s security policies.
  • With regard to future developments in the field of security research in the EU: plans for the future development of EU-level security research, including the European Research and Innovation Agenda recently proposed by ESRIF, do not fundamentally challenge the abovementioned trends. While these proposals indicate a growing awareness for questions of fundamental freedoms and rights, they remain overly framed by the concerns of the defence and security industry and national and European security agencies and services.

The study also contains updated information about the extent of arms industry involvement in FP7 (see pages 23-24 of the report, link below), confirming that “it is mostly large defence companies, the very same who have participated in the definition of EU-sponsored security research which are the main beneficiaries of FP7-ST funds”. The report analysed 91 FP7 projects, worth a total of €443,2 million, and found that “companies such as the Thales group are involved in roughly one third of the projects (27), representing more than half the FP7-ST (57%) in terms of projects’ total worth (€ 253.8 million)”.

The study recommends that a comprehensive evaluation of EU-funded security research and development to date should be conducted before any decision on future funding for security research in FP8 is taken. Four options for such a review are set out:

i) an accounts and budgetary evaluation through the European Court of Auditors;

ii) a data-protection and privacy evaluation conducted by the EDPS and/or the Art.29 Working Party;

iii) a fundamental rights and freedoms assessment conducted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights agency;

iv) a full-spectrum evaluation conducted under the auspices of the European Parliament’s STOA unit.

Given the fundamental conflict of interests at the heart of the security research programme (in which multinational defence corporations have been able to set the research agenda and secure the lion’s share of the available funding), a review by the Court of Auditors would be most welcome. Given the limited mandates of the EDPS and FRA, however, any further review should only be conducted in the much broader STOA framework.

The study also recommends a transfer of competence for EU security research from DG Enterprise to DG Research and the “earmarking [of] a certain amount of future funds to be dedicated to security research for projects in the field of fundamental freedoms and rights (10-15%)”.

Although transferring the ESRP to DG Research would be a most welcome initiative, it seems implausible given that one of the programme’s central objectives is “industrial competitiveness” – in other words developing a globally competitive European Homeland Security industry. The second recommendation, increased funding for rights and freedoms-based research, is much more likely to happen. The question we should be asking, however, is whether this can somehow ‘offset’ or ‘human-rights proof’ the kind of security envisaged by the security-industrial complex.

What is needed more than anything in FP8 is a fundamental realignment of priorities for the entire security research programme. It is time that MEPs paid due regard to the growing body of evidence before them.

The European Parliament study, “Review of security measures in the Research Framework Programme”, is available here.

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