In the draft EU 2017 Budget presented on June 30th, the European Commission proposed to start funding the military research industry with EU public money through a Preparatory action on Defence research (PA) of 90 million EURO for 3 years (2017-2019). This proposal crossed the traditional red line that EU budget should only finance civil activities and purposes.
The European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT) opposed such use of these funds for reasons of peace and security, democracy and efficiency. It conducted a campaign targeting the European parliament and asking MEPs to reject this proposal, which would represent a fundamental paradigm shift of the EU project. This campaign ran from early September till 26th of October.
ENAAT members published a common press release and addressed individual letters directly to their MEPs ahead of the first crucial vote, in order to raise awareness of the issue and encourage MEPs not to sign a blank cheque to the arms industry. Papers were produced and disseminated to present alternative analyses and facts to MEPs. In parallel, ENAAT's EU programme officer met and discussed the issue directly with several key MEPs. In the run-up to the last vote on October 26th, a joint online petition was launched together with wemove.eu.The petition was available in 6 languages and gathered more than 60,000 signatures in one week. Urgent calls to reject the PA were sent to MEPs ahead of the vote by wemove.eu and ENAAT, and some ENAAT members called directly or wrote again to their MEPs, or managed to get articles in their national press, such as the Guardian.
Despite this mobilisation, an overwhelming majority of MEPs voted in favour of this Preparatory action. The combination of industry and Member states lobbying with the current international context of - real or perceived - threats against 'EU security' rendered making a dissenting or critical voice heard in this process particularly difficult. Even if a certain number of MEPs were receptive to ENAAT concerns, when facing the 'rhetoric of fear' the most common attitude was to accept the Preparatory action because “we have to do something”. Although the final vote of the Parliament will formally take place on December 1st, 2016, there is no chance to overturn this position now, as the only possibility for the European Parliament would be to reject the full budget, something they will not do for “only” 25 million EURO in the 2017 Budget.
However this campaign also brought some positive results if one looks longer term: around the October 26th vote, several newspapers were interested in writing articles about this issue, thus giving it more visibility (EU or national, political or scientist, paper or online press). ENAAT could also raise its profile as a credible alternative voice and good contacts have been made with some key MEPs who are now willing to continue working on this issue in the next months and year, in particular under the perspective of a fully-fledged EU Defence Research programme of 3.5 billion EURO from 2021, as a possible follow-up to the PA. This campaign did a lot to raise awareness and enlarge the debate to 'non-expert' MEPs, some of them now ready to pick-up the issue. ENAAT members' contribution has been crucial to make this happen.