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Peaceful European Union starts to fund military research

Author  :  Elizabeth Gibney     Source  :    Nature     2016-12-26

Shift in focus comes in response to a changing world order and the threat of terrorism.

Marine surveillance drones are likely to be among the technologies funded by a new EU research fund.

Faced with a changing world order and buffeted by a slew of political crises and terrorist attacks, the historically civilian European Union is bolstering its military capabilities. And that means making its first major investment in military research.

On 1 December, the European Parliament approved a €25-million ($26-million) fund dedicated to military research. It will form part of a proposed broader European Defence Fund, aimed at making military innovation more efficient and enlarging Europe’s industrial defence base.

The research portion of the fund will cover electronics, advanced materials, encrypted software and robotics. The European Commission, the EU’s policymaking arm, expects to invest a total of €90 million by 2020. It hopes the figure will rise to €500 million a year for defence research from 2021. The sum is dwarfed by the EU’s major research-funding programme, Horizon 2020, which will hand out €80 billion over 7 years, the €8.8 billion spent by EU member states on defence research in 2014, and what the United States and probably China spend on defence research.

But some scientists fear that funding defence research is a step in the wrong direction for the EU. “It will necessarily divert much-needed funding from civilian R&D budgets, at a time when they are urgently needed for areas such as climate and energy,” says Stuart Parkinson, executive director for UK-based advocacy group Scientists for Global Responsibility.

One of the EU’s main objectives is to promote peace. In the past, defence was seen as a national issue rather than something for the bloc to handle. The decision to create the research fund is in part driven by a drop in national defence-research funding, which declined by 18%, or €1.9 billion, between 2006 and 2014 in real terms, according to the European Defence Agency (EDA) in Brussels, which will manage the research fund on behalf of the commission.

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