Arms dealers not welcome in Brussels
European Defence Agency conference shut down (but EU parliament still set to rubber-stamp subsidies to arms dealers tomorrow)
- On 10th November, policy makers and military staff from across the European Union met with arms trade lobbyists in Brussels for the annual European Defence Agency conference. On the agenda: the ‘defence’ industry at the European level.
- The conference, held behind closed doors, was invite-only but Belgian campaign organisations Vredesactie and Agir pour la Paix invited anti-arms trade activists to Brussels to tell the arms dealers that they are not welcome at the European Union.
- Over 120 activists (including Sophie and Sarah from Campaign Against Arms Trade) accepted the invitation and made their way – from towns and cities across Belgium, but also from France, the Netherlands and the UK – to the European Commission to shut the conference down.
- Media coverage of the action by global outlets from Fox News to the Brussels Times and the BBC put creeping EU militarism in the spotlight.
- The European Union was born out of a desire to peacefully unite a continent devastated by war and has largely focused its efforts on social and economic integration, leaving aside questions of military-policy making to national governments. But recent developments show that this is rapidly changing.
- Rumours of an EU army are rife and, at the end of October, funding was agreed for a ‘Preparatory Action on Defence Research’. This will mean public money going to arms industry research and development for the first time in the history of the EU as a result of lobbying by (and to the enormous benefit of) arms manufacturers. The subsidies will amount to €90 million over the next three years.
- Arms dealers and military personnel travelled to Brussels in November to make sure that spending promises would be kept and to pile on the pressure on EU policy makers to keep the EU firmly on the road towards militarisation.
- The day was a success with all entrances to the building being blocked in the morning and arms dealers turned away causing serious disruption to the conference.
- Activists locked-on to stop conference-goers from getting inside...
- ...and banners and ribbons sealed off the area.
- The day ended with a die-in and a strong message being sent to EU policy makers that we do not want our public money being handed over to arms dealers to help them develop ever more effective means of killing (whilst lining their own pockets), when it could be spent instead on collective social well-being. Those attending the conference heard, loud and clear, that a military decision-making process that is secretive, lacks transparency and is dominated by arms industry lobbyists is not OK.
- Bram Vranken of Vredesactie told War Resisters’ International that “this action was more than effective... the activists blocked the arms dealers' path. Arms lobbyists literally had to wriggle their way through. This is an important message to the European Union to drastically change course”.
- The final vote on the ‘Preparatory Action on Defence Research’ will take place on 1st December and, even though it is unlikely to be overturned at this late stage, it is important to keep this issue in the public eye. If this pilot project is successful, then the door will be left wide open for EU money to pour into military research and development.
- Projected subsidies to the arms industry are expected to reach in the region of a staggering €3.5 billion between 2021 and 2027, as part of a full-blown EU Defence Research Programme. Any EU spending on arms will mean less money that can be spent on socially useful projects; it all comes from the same pot.
- The European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT) has raised concerns that this represents “a worrying shift of the EU mission from a civilian peace project to a military-led project”. Bram Vranken says that the choice that policy makers have to make is stark: “At the end of November, they can make their priorities clear: do they want a Europe which subsidizes the arms industry or do they finally start working on conflict prevention and resolution?” This is militarism at the heart of the European project. EU money has never before been spent on the arms; let's keep it that way.
- Whilst Belgian activists did an amazing job of coordinating this action - from putting out the call-out to welcoming all and sundry to Brussels and cooking up a warming, delicious meal in the park afterwards - in or out of the EU, this is something that will affect all of our futures. The responsibility to act lies with us all. You can add your voice to ENAAT's campaign against the militarisation of the European Union:
- If you would like to learn about this issue in more depth, take a look at Ann Feltham's blog for CAAT on the subject or read the ENAAT policy position paper: