Brussels, 16 Mar 2004
Security has been moving up the EU agenda ever since 11 September 2001, and as Commission President Romano Prodi said on 15 March, when accepting a new report on 'Research for a Secure Europe', 'the bombs in Madrid reminded us of the urgency and need to be prepared in order to ensure our security.'
The report was prepared by a high level group of personalities, including former heads of state and government, MEPs and industry leaders, and chaired by EU Commissioners Philippe Busquin (research) and Erkki Liikanen (enterprise and information society). The report's principal recommendations concern the establishment of a European security research programme (ESRP), which should receive a minimum of one billion euro in EU money per year.
Globalisation has introduced new security threats to Europe, states the report. 'In an interdependent world, conflicts in remote regions can destabilise the international order and directly affect Europe's security and interests.' Growing interdependence on infrastructures has introduced a new area of vulnerability, while increased technical know-how has made it easier to use technological advancements for terrorist purposes.
One way of increasing security is increasing research, focusing on the prevention and detection of risks. 'Research cannot guarantee security, but security cannot be guaranteed without support from technology,' said Mr Busquin, quoting the new report.
The recommendations contained in the report were welcomed by Mr Prodi, who emphasised that 'the potential cost of inaction to society and the economy is too high.'
Specifically, the group of personalities recommended that the ESRP be set up by 2007, and should fund research projects that boost Europe's security capability for applications relating to internal security in the EU and Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) missions, as well as those carried out under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).
The programme may or may not be part of the Seventh Framework Programme for research or the proposed 'Agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments.' More important is that the programme has its own line of funding which is in addition to that allocated to other initiatives, emphasises the report.
The figure of one billion euro is similar to that invested in security research in the US, and the group of personalities do not try to hide the fact that they looked at US spending before arriving at their recommendation. 'The complexity of the new security tasks makes the calculation of an appropriate funding level of the ESRP particularly challenging,' claims the report. While there is no need for the EU defence budget to mirror that of the US, as Europe's ambitions are not equal to those of the US, 'this is not necessarily the case for internal security,' states the report. 'The EU is equally exposed to new threats, it has to cope with the same vulnerabilities of modern societies, and the borders of the enlarged Union are considerably more difficult to protect than those of the US.' The group of personalities therefore concluded that, while priorities may differ, 'a comparable level of investment on security research seems justified.'
A budget equal to that of the US will also help Europe to compete on an equal footing. The report acknowledges that there are some areas where the US is well ahead of Europe and will therefore impose normative and operational standards worldwide. There is little point, concedes the report, in duplicating research that is already being conducted elsewhere.
With this in mind, the group of personalities has drawn up guidelines for when the EU should go it alone with regard to research, and when it should seek international cooperation. For critical technologies, 'Europe should aim for an indigenous competitive capability, even if this involves duplication of effort,' is the recommendation. For other technologies, assessments of requirements and levels of knowledge should be carried out before deciding whether to keep the development of knowledge inside Europe, or to cooperate with other partners.
Asked about the precise subjects of research projects that would receive funding under the ESRP, Erkki Liikanen claimed that specifications are not yet possible, but that research would focus on multifunctionality between civil and military technologies. He criticised the 'artificial division' between the two types of research, and emphasised that both sectors can benefit from the transfer of knowledge and technologies. He gave the example of information communication technologies (ICTs) as multipurpose technologies.
The results of a recent Eurobarometer survey indicate that the EU does indeed need to act in order to increase the sense of security felt by many EU citizens. Over 8 per cent of those responding to a 2002 questionnaire named 'international terrorism' as their main fear, ahead of 'organised crime', 'WMD [weapons of mass destruction] proliferation' and 'nuclear accident'.
The proposed ESRP is the latest in a list of EU initiatives to address this concern. In addition to proposing the 'Agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research acquisition and armaments', the Commission has launched a Preparatory Action on security research and outlined its intentions to invest more in the field in its financial perspectives for 2007 to 2013.
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