Should the EU subsidise Israeli security?
The inclusion of Israel in the European Security Research Programme undermines the EU's commitment to even-handedness in the Middle East.
Since the European Community began funding research in 1984, both the amount of funding available and the range of topics on offer have steadily increased (the latest framework programme, FP7, has a seven-year budget of €53 billion). So has the participation of researchers from outside the EU in collaborative projects.
In per capita terms, no non-EU country has received more from the EU's largesse than Israel. Indeed, the European Commission says that the EU is now second only to the Israel Science Foundation in Jerusalem as a source of research funding for Israeli academics, corporations and state enterprises.
More and more of that funding is finding its way to Israel's already buoyant security sector. Israeli revenues from the export of counter-terrorism-related products now top $1bn annually, according to the Israeli government.
Since incorporating Israel into the ‘European research area', the Commission has signed off on dozens of lucrative EU research contracts to the likes of Israel Aerospace Industries (a state-owned manufacturer of drones), Motorola Israel (producer of ‘virtual fences' around Israeli settlements) and Elbit Systems (one of Israel's largest private military technology firms, responsible for segments around Jerusalem of, to use the United Nation's term, the separation wall constructed between Jewish and Palestinian communities).
Some 58 EU ‘security research' projects have now also been funded under the new €1.4bn ‘security research' component of FP7. Israeli companies and institutions are participating in 12 of these, leading and co-ordinating five of them. Only the UK, Germany, France and Italy lead more projects.
Among this latest tranche of contracts is a €9.1 million project led by Verint Systems that will deliver “field-derived data” to “crisis managers” in “command-and-control centres”. (These contracts tend to avoid phrases such as ‘surveillance' and ‘homeland security', substituting less emotive terms.)
Verint describes itself as “a leader in enterprise workforce optimisation and security intelligence solutions, including video intelligence, public safety and communication intelligence and investigative solutions”. What it primarily provides is workplace surveillance, CCTV and wire-tapping facilities. Verint is now effectively being subsidised by the EU to develop surveillance and communication systems that may ultimately be sold back to the member states.
The raison d'être for establishing the EU security research programme was to enhance the ‘industrial competitiveness' of the nascent European ‘homeland security' industry. The Commission argues that funding for Israeli ‘homeland security' is wholly consistent with this aim (insofar as it will enhance Europe's “knowledge base”).
But should the Commission be giving more money to Israel's flourishing security sector than to its counterparts in most of the EU states?
More importantly, should it be subsidising it at all? Israel's control of what remains of the Palestinian territories now depends as much upon the hardware and software provided by its ‘homeland security' industry as its traditional military supremacy.
The EU therefore risks complicity in the actions of a military that frequently shows too little regard for the lives and livelihoods of civilians. And the EU's subsidies make it appear less than even-handed in the peace process.
In the eyes of many Palestinians, it is already fundamentally compromised. Last September, Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief for a decade, told an audience in Jerusalem: “Israel is, allow me to say, a member of the European Union without being a member of the institutions.”
“No country outside the continent has the type of relations Israel has with the European Union,” he said, adding that Israel's “relation today with the European Union is stronger than the relation of Croatia” (which still hopes for membership in 2011).
Solana apparently did not mind whether the EU appeared even-handed or not, or how its research budget was being spent. But do European taxpayers want the EU's administrators to allocate their money to an industry at the heart of one of the bloodiest, most protracted and most sensitive geopolitical issues of our time?
Ben Hayes is a project director of the civil liberties group Statewatch and runs a blog on the EU Security Research Programme.