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The postponement of Saturday’s  meeting of the NUJ Continental European Council (made up of branches in Paris, Brussels and the Netherlands) allowed me to attend a guided tour about the arms industry lobby in Brussels, organised by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a non-profit research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups around European Union (EU) policy making. They were supported by Action Paix and Vredesactie (both peace groups).

More than 20,000 lobbyists currently seek to influence the EU institutions, most of them operating from offices in the four square kilometres around the EU Commission HQ and EU Parliament. Seventy per cent of them represent corporate institutions, 20% national bodies and institutions and 10% non government organisations including trades unions. It is said that Brussels and Washington compete to the title World lobbying capital. The power of the EU institutions, with its complex procedures and lack of transparency combined with their reliance on external sources of advice and information justify the description by former EU Commissioner, Marian Fischer Boel, of Brussels as a ‘lobbying paradise’.

At the start of the tour one question stuck in my mind. ‘We’ already have NATO, so why on earth do they want another body to wage war? There was a brief discussion in the group which offered some pointers – the role of the US in NATO and the experiences of the intervention in the former Yugoslavia, which planted in the minds of some European leaders the need for a military organisation that could act without the US. As foreign policy across the EU has become more unified, so has the call to back this up with military clout. Step forward the European arms industry, which has seized the moment and with the transfer of decision making powers on defence industry issues to the EU level has increased its lobbying activities to new heights.

With the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, which replaced the discredited European Constitution, the EU became a military alliance with an infrastructure for civil-military interventions including Europe’s on armaments agency. As the tour organisers point out in their leaflet ‘War Starts here’; ‘European directives concerning arms procurement and the arms trade, cooperative armaments projects and numerous initiatives benefiting defence companies in the fields of security research and space mean that EU policy making is worth billions of Euros to the arms industry. ….lobbying is about far more than influencing European institutions; rather it is about their close cooperation in reaching common goals. The European Union and the European arms industry have overlapping interesting based on their vision of a strong industry underpinning a strong EU defence policy. They use diverse channels to sustain this partnership, including sitting in advisory groups to influence budget decisions and political strategies, membership of think tanks, expert groups and other organisations to ensure intimate contact with policy makers and many more’. It is also important to remember that during this time of economic crisis, the armaments industries are fighting hard against cuts in defence budgets and are lobbying for more spending on weapons and research quoting both internal and external ‘threats’.

So, on a two hour tour on a rather cool and windy Saturday afternoon, we visited the locations of the main players in the arms industry lobbying. Organisations like the European Defence Agency, the European External Action Service, and the Security and Defence Agenda, a so called discussion forum, located in a fine old University building a few minutes from the European Parliament. We also visited the offices (from the outside of course) of the four big arms makers in Europe, the UK’s BAE Systems as well as Finmeccanica, EADS and Thales (who I thought only made trains).

All quite an eye opener, which is why we have to continue to campaign for greater transparency of the lobbying industry (which does include our own organisations like unions, NGO’s etc) and get this information out to the public who is after all paying for it!

Meantime I was left reflecting on the words of Javier Solana (a Spanish physicist and Socialist politician) who went on to become Secretary General of NATO and later the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security and Secretary General of the Council of the European Union (until 2009); ‘None of us can any longer afford to sustain a healthy and comprehensive defence technological and industrial base on a national basis. The future health, maybe even survival of Europe’s defence industry requires a European approach and a European strategy’. That’s their plan and it’s well underway. What are we going to do to stop them? I think I’ll start by asking the Greeks!

For more about the CEO go to: