EU to invest in military capacity for development work

Flags of the European Union members in Strasbourg. Photo by: European Parliament / CC BY-NC-ND

BRUSSELS — Resources from the European Union budget will be put towards nonlethal support of foreign militaries for the first time, following a reform intended to create the “missing link” between security and development.

The regulation, introduced this weekend, points to situations in which military actors are needed to support development work in unstable environments. The EU says it aligns with its commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals and the new European Consensus on Development.

But critics warned of the risk of reinforcing armies’ war-time capacity, and claim the decision is incompatible with EU law. They say that such efforts, if necessary, should fall under the EU’s foreign and security policy, rather than under development assistance.

Under the regulation, which entered into force Saturday after approval from member states earlier this month, 100 million euros ($117 million) will be made available until 2020 under the pre-existing Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace, or IcSP, to go towards capacity building for security and development of military actors in partner countries. The European Commission has not set out which countries will benefit from the new support.

Following backlash against an initial proposal to draw on the aid budget, no funding will be taken from existing development programs, with the money instead reallocated from elsewhere in the EU’s budget for external activities and channeled through the IcSP.

The funding instrument, which is managed jointly by EuropeAid and the Service for Foreign Policy Instruments, launched in 2014 with a budget of 2.3 billion euros ($2.71 billion) up to 2020. It works on conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and crisis preparedness — and has funded projects including a desalination plant in Gaza and a youth deradicalisation program in Bangladesh.

In accordance with official development assistance criteria set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the new support will only be allowed in “exceptional circumstances,” to help deliver development activities in situations where there is a risk to state institutions or human rights, which the state alone cannot handle, and where non-military actors are not sufficient.

That may involve providing funds to help armies with reconstruction and rehabilitation of infrastructure, mine clearing, and equipment for IT, transport, communication, water infrastructure, and sanitation. The partner country and the EU must also agree that military actors are key for ensuring “the conditions essential for sustainable development.”

It is the first time that funds from the EU budget could be used to support foreign militaries. That is because the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in 2009, ordinarily forbids “expenditure arising from operations having military or defense implications” being financed out of the bloc’s own budget. Most EU member countries already fund the training of foreign armed forces directly through the Athena mechanism, rather than through the official EU budget. The Commission says that the “exceptional” nature of the support, which will be closely tied to development work, puts it in line with Lisbon Treaty regulations.

“This is the missing link for the EU in terms of security and peace instruments,” the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee rapporteur on the file, Arnaud Danjean, from the center-right European People’s Party, said last month after MEPs approved the plan by 473 votes to 163.

“We have missions working with armed forces in certain developing countries, providing training, but which don’t have the legal and financial tools to provide nonlethal equipment, that would allow armed forces to support development activities in countries like Mali, Somalia, Niger or Central African Republic,” he said.

Long-standing debate

Elements within the EU had been pushing for the change for some time. In April 2015, the Commission argued that the failure to fund nonlethal equipment had hurt the EU’s ability to conduct capacity building for foreign militaries and thus, to prevent security environments from deteriorating. The following month, EU foreign ministers called on the Commission and European External Action Service to propose changes to security and development capacity building in order to incorporate further EU funding.

In 2016, 10 EU countries — including France, Germany, Italy, and Spain — also insisted the Commission speed up work on capacity building, given “the urgent need ... to develop the EU’s ability to work with partners to strengthen their civilian and military security sector,” according to a paper seen by POLITICO.

More recently, the Commission argued that the change to the IcSP was necessary to bring its assistance in line with SDG 16. The goal emphasises the need to “strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacities at all levels, in particular in developing countries, for preventing violence and combating terrorism and crime.”

However, the shift in policy has also been controversial.

In December 2016, a report for the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs found that the Commission’s impact assessment had failed to demonstrate the urgency for reform, or “how a rather limited financial effort in the area of security capacity-building can reduce risks and contribute to development.” It concluded that the Commission had failed to consider viable alternatives to the choice of altering the IcSP.

Bodil Valero, shadow rapporteur for the Greens/EFA grouping of the European Parliament, expressed concern last month that the changes would see the “precious resources the EU has for civilian conflict prevention … diverted towards bolstering foreign armies.”

“Sacrificing the EU's only instrument for civilian conflict prevention to meet security policy requirements is dangerously short sighted,” she added.

The initial proposal for the change would have seen the 100 million euros ($117 million) sourced partly from the Development Cooperation Instrument, which supports poverty reduction programs — a suggestion that sparked backlash from civil society and some members of the European parliament, amid concerns about a raid on aid funds.

Instead, the sum will now be reallocated from elsewhere within the “Global Europe” budget line.

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Brandon Locke, a policy officer at the ONE campaign, welcomed the final decision against drawing the funds from the DCI, which was negotiated between the European Parliament, Commission and Council. He said the reforms were a chance to move security considerations beyond the EU’s narrow focus on stopping migration.

“Conflict prevention and human security are essential to the conditions that you need for development,” Locke said. “What we should be asking is, ‘How can we reform the way we work on good governance, security sector reform and civilian control over the military, and ensure these things achieve long-term development objectives?’”

Legal uncertainty

Critics are still raising questions about whether the reform should fall under the banner of development assistance. Greens/EFA MEP Heidi Hautala argued the regulation is ripe for a legal challenge at the European Court of Justice, because "the aim of this reform is military capacity building, something that quite clearly falls outside the scope of a regulation based on the development policy legal base.”

Lawyers for both the European Council and Parliament initially found the proposal should fall under the bloc’s common foreign and security policy, rather than development. However, Parliament’s lawyers later changed their view, arguing military spending could be justified in exceptional circumstances where it is necessary to facilitate development work.

Tobias Heider, a Greens adviser who was in the negotiations with the Commission and Council, said that even excluding weapons and ammunition, the EU support would give substantial and dangerous help to militaries in partner countries.

He dismissed as “propaganda” the statement by Danjean that the IcSP reform “is not designed for purchasing or delivering arms, but building hospitals or developing communication systems.”

In modern warfare, Heider argued, communication is vital to a military campaign’s success. He also expressed concern that the ability to provide militaries with “equipment, infrastructure improvements, and services” directly linked to development assistance could be extended to justify things like air bases.

Any legal challenge would have to be brought by an EU member state. The Greens are currently in coalition governments in Luxembourg, Sweden and Lithuania.

According to the Commission, the first support under the new regulation is expected to be provided in early 2018.

The regulation includes the obligation for the Commission to keep the Parliament “duly informed, in a timely manner” about how the funds are being spent, with an evaluation of its impact and coherence with sustainable development goals due no later than June 2020.

About the author

  • Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.