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Geoghegan-Quinn’s dangerous new brief

Ireland’s new EU commissioner for research should ensure projects do not serve unsavoury military and vested interests
David Cronin

israeli companies that supply weapons used to attack civilians in Gaza are benefiting from scientific research projects soon to be administered by Ireland’s new EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan Quinn.  Since the September 11th atrocities in 2001, the European Commission has revised the guidelines for research funding to embrace projects linked to George Bush’s “war on terror”.  Israel is the main foreign partner in the EU’s multi-annual ‘framework programme’ for research, which has been allocated €53 billion for the period 2007-2013.  Ten of the 45 initial projects described by the EU as “security research” have involved Israeli companies, or Israeli academic or state institutions.

Motorola Israel, for example, is taking part in iDetect 4All, an EU-funded surveillance project designed to provide alerts of suspicious activities near buildings, or resources of economic value.  Motorola is the top maker of fuses for aircraft bombs used by the Israeli air force.  Weapons components bearing a Motorola label have been found by investigators from Human Rights Watch who searched the sites bombed by Israel in Gaza in late 2008 and the beginning of this year.  Motorola-made fuses were also a central part of the bomb with which Israel killed at least 28 civilians, most of them children, living in an apartment block in Qana, Lebanon, in 2006.  Motorola’s surveillance equipment, meanwhile, is being tested in the occupied West Bank.  Over the past five years, a Motorola radar system worth $158 million has been installed in 47 Israeli settlements there.  The Jerusalem Post has described the system as a “virtual fence” that uses thermal cameras to pinpoint “intruders”.

The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) is seeking an appointment with Geoghegan Quinn before she formally takes up the post of EU research commissioner early 2010.  “Europe can’t be an honest broker [in the Middle East] and support the Israeli arms industry at the same time”, said David Landy, the IPSC chairman.  The European Commission has tried to conceal how its scientific research has become increasingly militarised.  Janez Potocnik, the outgoing research commissioner, has said “there is nothing that would be defence related” in the EU’s research programme.  While the Commission admits that it funds “security research”, it insists that it is of a civilian nature.  But a study by Statewatch, the civil liberties organisation, has found that almost half of all companies that have taken part in the EU’s “security research” projects to date are defence companies.  Statewatch spokesman Ben Hayes said it is “extremely alarming” that the EU is financing high-tech surveillance projects that could imperil fundamental rights such as the right to privacy.  He urged Geoghegan Quinn to “go back to the drawing board” and re-evaluate the security-research projects that Potocnik had authorised.

Geoghegan Quinn will inherit responsibility, too, for a range of energy-research projects that have been heavily criticised by environmental campaigners.  In January, the EU’s Ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, is scheduled to release the results of an investigation into an alleged conflict of interests over grants for the development of biofuels.  His investigation follows a complaint by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), an organisation monitoring the activities of lobbyists in Brussels.  CEO has protested at how Potocnik has recruited energy and biotechnology firms such as Shell, Syngenta, Repsol, and Abengoa, to advise him on the future direction of EU policies.  All of these companies have been awarded EU grants.

A target approved by EU governments in 2007, that ten per cent of all road transport in the Union should be powered by biofuels by 2020, was based on recommendations from an advisory group set up by Potocnik and almost entirely comprising private-sector representatives.  Since then, the World Food Programme has identified the greater use of agricultural crops for cars as a significant factor behind food price rises that have exacerbated global hunger.  Olivier Hoedeman, a CEO campaigner, said that the EU’s research agenda is being driven by a number of “unaccountable” advisory groups, dominated by large multinational companies.  Often, he added, the same companies that help establish the EU’s priorities and assess applications for finance are those which benefit directly from grants.  “The new commissioner [Geoghegan Quinn] should roll back the involvement of industry in shaping proposals and at other stages in the allocation of funding”, he said.  “A review is needed so that research serves the public interest and not private companies”.