The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, wants to allocate portions of an annual EUR 500 million research fund into developing border patrol drones, it announced this week.
Outlined in the Commission's European Defence Action Plan, the body believes EU funded research could help "support technologies for the development in Europe of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (such as drones), as well as technologies to support the monitoring and security of EU borders."
The document specifically proposes drones that "could be used for border surveillance", and which would work collectively with maritime security across borders belonging to member states of the European Union.
If member states agree to the proposed action plan, the Commission said a period of preparatory action will pave way to a "research window" from 2020 that would require an estimated annual budget of EUR 500 million, placing the EU among the top four defence research and technology investors in Europe.
As reported by Politico's Justin Stares in April, the European Commission has already proposed plans for drone fleets for migrant monitoring. "Advanced discussions in the Council of Ministers have centered on a request for an annual budget of €22 million to help set up the EU fleet. The plan is to fit drones with video, infrared sensors and chemical "sniffers" for detecting ships that pollute, according to a Commission official," Stares wrote. But those plans were met with criticism from German officials, who questioned effectiveness-to-cost ratio of such an EU drone fleet. The United States has been using surveillance drones to patrol its borders for some time now, as Motherboard discusses here, but reports have found the program both ineffective and expensive.
In May 2015, Italy, France, and Germany also announced they would be researching the potential to develop a European drone program ready for action by 2025, in the hope of reducing dependence on Israeli and US technology.
But even before the migrant crisis catalysed European commissioners into debating increased defence collaboration such as a unified pan-European coast guard, a February 2014 report by European civil liberties monitor Statewatch found how hundred of millions of euros from EU research funding had been awarded to drone projects that are subsidising Europe's defence and security industries. According to the Statewatch report, the drone research is "geared towards the development and enhancement of tools for border surveillance and law enforcement."
This week's EU report, however, emphasized the need for Europe to become a tougher military player to protect itself against "external threats".
"As called for by the Council, this European Defence Action Plan contributes to ensuring that the European defence industrial base is able to meet Europe's current and future security needs and, in that respect, enhances the Union's strategic autonomy, strengthening its ability to act with partners," outlines the report. "The use of RPAS (drones) for security purposes requires their effective integration into the aviation system based on, amongst other things, a coordinated civil-military effort, including of R&D programmes."
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