In May 2020, protests erupted around the world following George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in the US city of Minneapolis. Driven by centuries of injustice and marginalisation, protesters called for an end to structural racism and discrimination, justice for victims of police violence, and – with the demand to ‘defund’ the police – for new ways to provide security and understand what makes us feel safe. These calls intersected with the longstanding demands of refugee and migrants’ rights movements for governments to do more to provide protection for people fleeing violence and persecution, and to stop treating human movement as a security issue; as well as those of campaigners seeking to put an end to the domination of politics and society by global corporate interests, whose agendas fuel the militarised policing and border policies increasingly adopted across the globe.
The ultimate aim of all these movements is a more just, peaceful world – one that eliminates the historic systems of social and economic inequality that have for so long divided people and societies, as well as the systems of surveillance, coercion and exclusion that underpin these systems. Governments have not given a warm reception to this message. On the contrary, by and large they continue to press ahead with failed models of security that have done so much harm, propelled by economic interests that see ‘solutions’ for security problems in new technologies of surveillance and coercion.
The new seven-year security budgets approved by the European Union (EU) in early 2021– the subject of this report – provide a clear example of this woeful tendency. A massive increase in security spending over the next seven years – to the tune of tens of billions of euros – is set to further reinforce ‘Fortress Europe’, bolster the technologies and powers available to police forces, and provide enormous sums for the development of new military equipment and the deployment of military operations overseas. This report is intended as a guide for campaigners, journalists, researchers and others who wish to understand how these budgets work, with the aim of spurring critical engagement with the projects and activities the EU currently funds, as well as informing subsequent negotiations on the next round of EU security spending, due to start in 2025.
The approval and implementation of the new security budgets comes at a time of much upheaval. During the global pandemic, which hit Europe in early 2020, EU governments introduced measures to try to curb the spread of COVID-19, and, in doing so, many further entrenched discriminatory and often racist police practices, while failing to effectively protect the most marginalised social sectors from the worst effects of lockdowns and restrictions. The EU’s Mediterranean states – notably Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain – continue to violate the rights of migrants and asylum seekers as they seek to repel or expel people fleeing war and poverty, in the name of the EU’s system of ‘border management’. The French government has responded brutally to all manner of protests at the same time as seeking to enable new, intrusive surveillance techniques for police forces. Meanwhile, the Polish and Hungarian governments, whose actions are often highlighted as the most egregious examples of democratic ‘backsliding’, serve to illustrate the unwillingness of EU institutions to counter their brazen opposition to the supposed ‘founding values’ in a robust manner. Following repeated moves by those two governments to restrict the independence of the judiciary, increase executive power, crush independent civil society organizations and increase government control of the media, EU institutions launched proceedings that could, ultimately, result in those governments having certain EU decision-making rights suspended. However, other member states have sought to drag out the procedures for as long as possible to avoid making any sort of decision, a tactic that even the passing of a new law has not, so far, been able to prevent.
In May 2018, the European Commission proposed rules ‘to protect the Union’s financial interests from the risk of financial loss caused by generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law in a Member State’. These were approved by government ministers (in the Council of the EU) and the European Parliament in December 2020 – but their application was then stalled, with heads of government in the European Council deciding that they would not be enforced until the European Commission drew up ‘guidelines’ on their application, a move with no legal basis. After several months of dithering, the Parliament then launched legal proceedings against the European Commission for its failure to enforce the new rules, but the case is yet to be heard by the Court of Justice. The Commission belatedly decided to use the mechanism against Hungary, following the re-election of Viktor Orbán; the outcome of that process remains to be seen. Commentators have noted that despite frequent court judgments against Hungarian legislation – for example on asylum – little has changed on the ground.
Some action is being taken against the EU’s rule of law ‘backsliders’. The European Commission is withholding billions of euros in payments to Poland from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund, demanding that it reverse changes that undermine judicial independence. However, the Polish justice minister said in December 2021 that he would be in favour of suspending the country’s contributions to the EU budget if the Commission refuses to back down. The country maintains that it is being “blackmailed” by the Commission. Meanwhile, in December 2021, the Hungarian government announced that it would not be doing anything to comply with a Court of Justice ruling that demanded an end to illegal pushbacks of asylum-seekers to Serbia. ‘We will maintain the existing regime, even if the European court ordered us to change it. We will not change it and will not let anyone in,’ Viktor Orbán told a press conference.
In this context, it should be asked: will reinforcing the repressive agencies of the state, in particular, police forces and border control agencies, with billions of euros in funding over the next seven years, make us any safer? Is the development of new ‘homeland security’ and military technologies, or the financing of new military operations overseas, really the best use of society’s resources – particularly at a time when the need to address climate change, inequality and discrimination has never been more urgent?
This report examines the financing for these agencies and activities. In particular, it looks at the three EU home affairs funds (the Asylum and Migration Fund, the Integrated Border Management Fund, and the Internal Security Fund), the European security research programme (Civil Security for Society, geared towards developing new security technologies and techniques) and two new military budgets (the European Defence Fund and the European Peace Facility). There are also other funds that may provide resources for security powers and agencies that are beyond the scope of this report: the Recovery and Resilience Fund, adopted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic; or the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance, used to support candidate countries for EU membership.
The funds examined in this report will significantly strengthen the internal and external security machinery of the EU and its member states, reinforcing both their repressive and aggressive powers, as well as hugely increasing the profits of the private security industry, which is likely to reap massive financial benefits from this increased spending. Police databases and information networks; intrusive counter-radicalisation policies; border surveillance technologies; detention centres; migration ‘hotspots’ such as those already established in Greece and Italy; weapons research; the development of security and military technologies; and more military operations will all receive increased financial backing through these budgets.
These goals are being cynically pursued with comparatively little additional funding for human rights organisations and activism (the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme is included in Table 1 by way of comparison). The EU institutions have correctly identified that groups and governments seeking to undermine ‘the rule of law, access to justice, space for civil society and the independence of the judiciary’ are a major threat. Although the diagnosis may be correct, the prognosis seems entirely inappropriate: while funding earmarked for ‘rights, values and justice’ has increased by 124%, in absolute terms this amounts to €1.4 billion, compared to that available for law enforcement, border control and military research and development (R&D) and operations – €43.6 billion – and even with this increase, most of the funds for rights, values and justice will still be awarded to governments rather than independent organisations. Particularly with regard to migration, the budgets – alongside some of the EU’s more recent policy proposals – are clearly geared towards trying to placate xenophobic and racist movements and sentiments in some member states rather than finding creative ways to effectively challenge them. It is true that, in comparison to the amount of money that member states have to spend on their police forces, border control agencies and militaries, the EU’s contribution is relatively small. The European Defence Fund and European Peace Facility have a total budget of just under €14 billion over the next seven years, a mere 8% of total EU member states’ spending on ‘defence’ in 2019 alone. The then-28 EU member states (before the UK left the EU) also spent €234 billion on ‘public order and safety’ in the same year. Next to this, the €1.9 billion Internal Security Fund looks like loose change.
This funding is not, however, simply an addition to national budgets, but is designed to contribute to building the EU as a political project . Thus, to understand the nature of this political project it is important to examine where the money is meant to go, what it is supposed to do, and what are the procedures and possibilities for ensuring accountability, respect for fundamental rights and transparency. Where there are no such procedures and possibilities, it will be up to campaigners, CSOs and national and European representatives to demand that they be put in place, while simultaneously challenging the very existence of such securitised budgets. This, with a view to advocating a shift in focus in the next budgetary cycle. Moreover, it is essential for critical observers to track and closely monitor the use of the funds at national level – another reason why transparency is such a key issue.
Those who have taken to the streets since May 2020 – and long before – have made it loud and clear that society’s problems will not be solved by the same ideas, institutions and practices that have created and exacerbated them. It is no surprise that their aspirations are not reflected in the decisions made by politicians and officials in EU institutions and its member states. Achieving such change will take years, if not decades – if it is indeed possible at all. This report aims to provide a better understanding of where the EU allocates public money, and how it is controlled and monitored, in the hope that in the future, decisions about what is done with these resources may be better informed by the aspirations of those who seek a more peaceful, egalitarian society.