Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe’s anti-migrant militarisation of its borders is creating huge profits for the big businesses building new barriers across the continent.
A new report identifies three arms firms – Thales, Airbus and Leonardo – alongside other security, construction, and technology firms as key beneficiaries of the wall-building spree that has followed the panic about migration.
EU countries have built about 1,000km of border walls since East and West Germany were reunited in 1990, with sharp increases in construction since migration was put on the political agenda in earnest in 2015.
Campaigners say the wall construction and concurrent increase in sea patrols has partly been “driven by a powerful military and security industry” that has “shaped EU border policies and reaped the financial rewards”. Researchers say Airbus, Leonardo and Thales, together with lobby group the European Organisation for Security, held 226 registered lobbying meetings with the European Commission between 2014 and 2019, spending €2.65m (£2.27m) on lobbying in the year 2017 alone.
Taken together, the physical barriers constructed so far are equivalent in length to about six Berlin Walls, most with the stated aim of keeping displaced people from arriving in Europe.
The report – drawn up by the Transnational Institute, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (Stop Wapenhandel) and Delàs Centre – found that at least €900m was spent on land walls and fences between 2006 and 2017, with a further €676.4m on maritime operations aimed at keeping people away from Europe’s shores.
In addition, firms have benefited from the €1.7bn budget of the European Commission’s External Borders Fund (2007-2013) and the €2.76bn in the EU Internal Security Fund earmarked for borders between 201 and 2020.
Brussels and member states are planning to ramp up spending on border control in the next EU budget cycle beginning in 2021, with €8.02bn earmarked for an Integrated Border Management Fund and €11.27bn for its borders agency Frontex.
“The European military and security industry, through their successful lobbying, has succeeded in framing migration as a security threat rather than a humanitarian challenge,” says Mark Akkerman, the report’s author.
“This has turned on a seemingly limitless tap of public funding for militarising our borders yet prevented the policies and investments we need to respond humanely to refugees and to tackle the root causes of forced migration.”
Another firm named in the report is European Security Fencing, a Spanish producer of razor wire that the report says “has dominated the field” in building barriers. Its razor wire has been deployed on frontiers including Hungary/Serbia, Bulgaria/Turkey, Austria/Slovenia, and UK/France.
The researchers also identify firms that have contributed “virtual walls” such as the Visa Information System (VIS), Schengen Information System (SIS II) and European Dactyloscopy (Eurodac), developed by French technology company Sopra Steria.
Of the arms giants, the report notes that Thales, a French arms and security company, makes radar and sensor systems for border-patrol ships, and is exploring the use of High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS) for border security, for the European Space Agency and Frontex.
Italian arms firm Leonardo is a leading supplier of helicopters for border security, and one of the main suppliers of drones that patrol borders. Airbus also supplies helicopters for border control: the pan-European arms and aviation giant and its subsidiaries have participated in at least 13 EU-funded border-security research projects
Niamh Ni Bhriain, of Transnational Institute, added: “As we celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is tragic that so many new walls have been built across Europe to keep out the most vulnerable people on our planet. This report shows that the new era of building walls is driven by a powerful military and security industry that has shaped EU border policies and reaped the financial rewards.”
Ainhoa Ruiz Benedicto, a researcher whose work contributed to the report, said: “These corporations’ domination of border policies and budgets has played a critical role in eroding the human rights of people who migrate and seek asylum. It has also proved deadly: at least 15,000 people alone have died in the Mediterranean alone since as they are forced to take ever more dangerous and deadly routes to escape war, repression or poverty.”
Last week, the European Union formally established its first permanent, standalone border-security corps, increasing its current security forces nearly tenfold.
“The European Border and Coast Guard is now stronger than ever. While member states will remain responsible for the management of external borders, the standing corps will provide unprecedented operational support on the ground. Its officers will be able to assist national border guards in conducting identity and document checks, with border surveillance and return operations,” said Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the European Commission, and Dimitris Avramopoulos, commissioner for home affairs, migration and citizenship, in a joint statement.
“We have spared no effort to make sure that member states have the necessary tools to protect their borders and ensure the security of European citizens.
“But our work is not yet done. The commission will now provide its full support to help the agency quickly take up its new tasks and ensure the standing corps swiftly reaches its full capacity of 10,000 border guards.”
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