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4 May 2006 Edition

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Bayonets bared for Europe's military future, MEP's Diary.... and Strasbourg In Brief

Bayonets bared for Europe's military future


The European Union and the arms industry are preparing the ground for a common European army and 'security' policy with hardly the beginning of public debate. "The LTV (Long Term Vision) will look 20 years ahead and be based on three themes: (1) the global context relating to such issues as the economy, society, demography, the environment and the law (2) the nature of future crisis management operations and (3) science and and technology trends. If you have expertise in any of these areas, we would like to hear from you ..." This is not the recruitment advert of an elusive think tank, but the appeal that appears on the official website of the European Defence Agency (EDA), the EU body for military matters.

The LTV's sub-title is 'What the future holds for Europe's Armed Forces'. And that's a very good question. Some trends are clear already - clear and worrying. In October 2005 Terrence Guay, researcher in foreign relations at Pennsylvania State University, wrote: 'Europe's defence industry is at a crossroads.' That is true also for the broader EU military policy- EU military capacity, relations with NATO, border security and so on. It is a crossroads at which the EU seems determined on taking the wrong turning.

On 21 November last year, an Associated Press report announced: "EU adopts plan to open €35 billion arms market." It referred to a meeting of defence ministers in Brussels, which decided to introduce a new code of conduct for the industry. This code, which takes effect in July, will open the European arms market and military procurement to the sort of deregulated market policies that the EU is now pursuing in every possible sphere. A particular cause for concern is that this deregulation coincides with a concerted process of merger and consolidation within the industry, whereby the 'free' market is leading to increasing domination by the biggest companies. Since this particular market involves tanks, aircraft carriers and electronic surveillance, and not underwear or oranges, the concerns are correspondingly larger.

In the past ten years, the wave of mergers and acquisitions in the European military industry has reduced the number of players and increased the size of those who remain - notably in key sectors such as missiles, aircraft and helicopters, with further mergers ahead in shipbuilding and the manufacture of ground vehicles.

Military market

Today, the military market in the EU is dominated by a handful of big conglomerates: BAE Systems (UK), EADS (France-Germany and Spain), Thales (France) and Finmeccanica (Italy), to name the biggest. Governments and corporate lobbyists are pushing for another wave, which would further reduce the number of firms. This is one of the specified aims of the EDA, clearly stated in its mandate when it was established in 2004.

The political significance of these trends is that the consolidation of anindustrial-military complex in the EU - and hence the growth of its potential power - is proceeding at a faster pace than the development and convergence of the foreign and military or 'security' policies of the EU member states. This leads us back to Talleyrand and his bayonets.

Let's zoom in. Supporters of a strong Europe point to some military or dual-use (civil and military) programmes, such as the A400M strategic transportation aircraft or the Galileo satellite network, to stress the need for autonomy from the US in modern military systems if the EU is to be able to carry out its own foreign policy. And since the US, after 9/11, is digging itself into an increasingly unilateralist hole, this means that a more autonomous Europe is necessarily linked to the emergence of a multilateral world. This may be correct, but as with its US model of industrial consolidation, the EU is developing means of military intervention that could hardly be said to reflect a `multilateral' world vision.

Trying to match US military might

The first EU military missions were in Bosnia and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the first steps to the construction of a European army are being taken by using military police and 'battle groups' - that is, rapidly deployable units. The first of these units should be inaugurated as early as next year. Together with the NATO rapid reaction force and a number of inter-state naval or ground units, these units will form the backbone of a military instrument that can work in harmony with American systems.

Apparently, the connection between having an autonomous foreign policy and having a fleet of aircraft carriers cannot be severed. The underlying idea is that to match the political global reach of the US, the EU should match their military might.

Since the adoption of a new military doctrine by NATO in 1999, official documents have linked the term 'security' with 'defence'. The doctrine does not adopt the idea of pre-emptive strike, but it nevertheless defines a complex security and defence apparatus in which the boundaries between military and civilian are fading in a problematic way. 'Security' includes using navies to counter 'illegal' migration; 'security' means controlling citizens through a European global satellite network and restrictions on civil liberties. The very use of the word 'security' means the actions can't be questioned.

During G8 summits in Genoa (2001) or in Gleneagles (2005), the techniques of crowd control and deployment of some military units as police were the same as in Kosovo or Iraq. The EU is making a special contribution to redrawing the common-sense notion of 'war'. Through the tradition of militarised police corps in some countries (notably Italy and France), which proved particularly suited for 'peacekeeping' operations, this ambiguity is being injected into the very basis of EU military policy.

National - or European - pride can help this militarisation on its way. A lot of our fellow citizens, even on the left, are proud of challenging the US - of being better 'peace-keepers' - though probably not so many would like to admit it openly. Thus, courted and frightened, European citizens keep on thinking that 'our' army and security system would be inherently different from that of the US. Why? A common answer points to a supposed European wisdom in international affairs and reluctance to use force.

Is it so? Over the past couple of years, many analysts have been arguing that the dominant position of the United States is slowly and perhaps inevitably on the decline. Its foreign political hegemony, from the chaos of the Iraqi occupation to the failure of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, is shrinking. Meanwhile, the two top buyers in the global arms market are China and India, who are working rapidly to reorganise their military systems to look like, if not act like, regional or even world powers. It will take time, but meanwhile the temptation for the competing US and the EU is great: control of the 'arch of instability', which runs from western Africa to Afghanistan, could be the prize for whoever wins the race. If we look at the processes taking place inside the high echelons of EU policy making, it seems that here too it is felt that the American century is coming to an end.

With such immense geo-political shifts taking place, it is clearly not unimaginable that the next few decades could turn Europe into the fulcrum of world hegemony. The Europe we would like to have would use it to pursue policies of equality, social and environmental justice and peace. The EU we have, however, is one that has other ideas - not least about the use of bayonets in carving out the future for the world.

• Enzo Mangini is an Italian journalist.

MEP's Diary.... BAIRBRE de BRÚN

A major issue at the Brussels mini session was the need to further investigate reports that the French city of Strasbourg has been overcharging the European Parliament up to €2.7 million a year in rent for as long 25 years. This is a cause for serious concern and it is only right and proper that MEPs have voted to postpone granting discharge to the European Parliament on its implementation of the budget for 2004 until further information is available.

Such revelations serve to strengthen the argument for closing down the Strasbourg parliament and centralising the European institutions and operations in Brussels. For one week every month, MEPs, their staff and a sizeable section of the EU's bureaucracy relocate to Strasbourg at tremendous expense. It has previously been estimated that the practice of moving back and forth between Strasbourg and Brussels consumes between 15% and 20% of the Parliament's €1,272 million annual budget.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg is a modern and fully functioning building for only one week per month. When the last staff member has left on a Thursday night and all of the lights are switched off, the building effectively shuts down until the following month. We have consistently called for the European Parliament's operations to be centralised to prevent such financial wastage.

The plenary session had opened with a debate on the legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Commenting on the 20th anniversary of the accident, Bairbre de Brún said: "Nuclear power can never be a viable option. The devastation caused 20 years ago and the after-effects which will be felt for many more generations should be enough to make us stop in our tracks and think again.

We in Ireland who welcome thousands of affected children from Chernobyl for holidays here every year have a clear indication of the unacceptable risks connected to nuclear power. At present there are 173 nuclear reactors in Europe, excluding Russia, and a number of these remain unstable and unsafe. Concerns have been raised not only about the building of new nuclear power stations but also about the old nuclear reactors in a number of the new EU member states. The safety of existing reactors must be addressed as a matter of priority. Indeed, even on our own doorstep, the Sellafield plant in Cumbria remains the most discredited nuclear facility in Western Europe.

Amidst all of this, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has hinted at building a new wave of nuclear power plants across Britain. This is not the way to meet obligations and targets on global warming."

The European Parliament also debated the issue of road safety across the EU and advocated the introduction of a device which, it has been estimated could save 2,500 lives every year. 'eCall' is a straightforward concept which has the potential to save thousands of lives of road users throughout the European Union. This piece of technology would be fitted to all cars, and in the event of a road collision would transmit an emergency call to the nearest emergency call centre, providing accurate information in relation to the location of the accident.

Whilst 'eCall' would obviously not prevent accidents and serious crashes, it has been estimated that it would significantly reduce the response time from the emergency services by 50%, and therefore assist in the saving of lives.

Strasbourg In Brief

It has emerged that a record 3,920 complaints were made against the European Union by citizens in 2005. Amongst complaints made were those regarding the EU's lack of transparency and allegations of abuse of power. Bairbre de Brún said that the EU and its institutions remains "elitist, largely unaccountable and lacks transparency yet it exerts huge power and control over all our lives".


Bairbre de Brún participated in a press conference highlighting the dangers of asbestos across the EU, on the eve of International Workers' Memorial Day on 28 April. The press conference to launch the report- ASBESTOS: The human cost of Corporate Greed, took place in the European Parliament in Brussels and was organised by MEPs from the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group (GUE/NGL).


Conor Murphy MP attended the EU Committee of the Regions Plenary session in Brussels and took the opportunity to call for the expansion of the North/South Ministerial Council to deal with the scrutiny of EU matters in an all Ireland manner.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
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