Maritime Walls

How armaments companies benefit from Fortress Europe

Several agencies in the European Union are responsible for the maritime regions of the Member States. The tasks of the Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) include the control of shipping, while Frontex coordinates the surveillance of maritime borders. Both use modern technologies, and the agencies have now pooled their capabilities. The EU Fisheries Control Agency is another partner to benefit from this tripartite working agreement.

Frontex specialises in satellite reconnaissance using the EUROSUR border surveillance system. With this platform, the agency wants to detect irregular refugee camps in Morocco or suspicious ship movements in the Mediterranean. The images come from an EU satellite programme for monitoring environmental and security matters.

Frontex has also tested military surveillance drones in pilot projects in the Mediterranean, including the „Heron 1“, which is also used by the German armed forces in Mali and Afghanistan. At present, Frontex does not fly its own drones, but EMSA has been offering corresponding services to European states since 2017. Among other things, an Israeli long-range drone developed for the military is being used. First, the Icelandic government made use of the offer. Meanwhile, EMSA also flies unmanned helicopters from defence companies in Austria and Sweden, for example off Croatia and in the Baltic Sea.

The EU Commission is funding similar research in the ROBORDER project. Ministries of the interior and defence of several countries are testing manned and unmanned platforms for border surveillance. Hungary is interested in securing its land borders with a land drone, while Greece is flying a medium-sized air drone and an aircraft. Portugal uses a surface and an underwater drone in the Atlantic. All platforms should operate as independently as possible and in swarms.

After more and more refugees crossed the English Channel with small boats last year, the authorities on both sides are upgrading their surveillance technology. A facility near the port city of Calais was built by Signalis, a consortium of Airbus and ATLAS Elektronik, which specialises in surveillance of maritime borders. Under an agreement, the UK is financing the French authorities to purchase drones, radar equipment and improved video surveillance.

European defence companies also benefit outside Europe from the migration policy, which is based on isolation. A few years ago, Airbus promoted its border surveillance technology as particularly suitable against a „wave of illegal immigrants“. The German Ministry of Defence subsequently donated the equipment to Tunisia in order to improve border protection against „terrorist and other cross-border threats“.

In the recently published study „Building Walls“ by the Dutch Transnational Institute, the authors calculate that the EU member states have spent at least 900 million euros on fences and barriers. In addition, almost 700 million euros have been spent on „maritime walls“ to monitor the external maritime borders. At around one billion, however, the „virtual borders“ devour most of the money. These are databases with which the European Union makes it difficult for refugees and migrants to find their way to Europe.

The already high costs will also increase drastically. In the budget currently under discussion, the EU Commission estimates that more than 20 billion euros will be spent on European border surveillance and control between 2020 and 2027.

Image: Ferries not Frontex! (all rights reserved Disorder Rebel Store).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.