European Defence Fund: No Autonomous Killer Robots in Sight

Written by | Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

The European Parliament has voted for a deal establishing the multi-billion European Defence Fund (EDF), which meant giving up control over the EU’s military subsidies program. The plans approved by the lawmakers, with 328 votes in favour, 231 against and 19 abstentions, outline that the EDF is set to receive an estimated €13 billion in the EU’s next multiannual financial framework (MFF) and will finance research projects. However, the partial agreement does not yet include the final financial figures, because as of today, the seven-year EU budget still needs to be approved by the next Parliament.


“Thanks to the EDF, we will not only prevent taxpayer’s money being wasted on unnecessary duplication of defence capabilities, but more importantly also increase Europe’s security and create new jobs in the defence industry sector,” rapporteur Zdzislaw Krasnodebski, a Polish conservative, said after the vote. But even before the crucial vote last Thursday on the topic of EDF, MEPs were at odds with one another. Many of them were bitter about the concessions made by the Parliament to the member states, giving up parliamentary oversight over the fund. And even though the negotiations over the partial political agreement of the fund are formally over, the EU assembly was still unsure on what will its role be in the future.


“We have won the battle to secure a common and strong European Defence Fund for the future and this despite obstacles set up by ideological opponents,” French centre-right deputy, Françoise Grossetête said after the vote. The fund is not about “militarising Europe,” but rather, “about supporting weapons research and development,” Krasnodebski told MEPs. Also, both Krasnodebski and Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska stressed that the purpose of the fund is to complement NATO, not compete with it. The program’s purpose is “nothing more and nothing less” than defence industrial cooperation, Bienkowska said.


“With the EU investments we are launching, we are going from ideas to concrete projects, we are strengthening the competitiveness of our defence industries,” Ms. Bienkowska pointed out. The program will also cover development of weapons prototypes, provided the member states involved commit to acquire the final product, but as there are currently no export controls, many fear that this project might kick off the arms export to the authoritarian regimes. Another contentious issue was the development of lethal autonomous weapons, but those were excluded from the agreement, as they will, along with AI, require more thorough ethical debates in the future.


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