Beware the output of defence and security think-tanks funded by the European Commission

Beware the output of defence and security think-tanks funded by the European Commission

In AD 1003, the city of Exeter learned a harsh lesson. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle informs us that the reeve (or local bigwig) was a man named Hugh. Hugh, a Frenchman, was looking after it on behalf of England’s Norman Queen. For unstated but entirely guessable reasons, he decided to let an army of marauding Danes into the town, who then promptly wrecked it.

One should hesitate before drawing too much from this anecdote about ancient immigration policy. French marcher knights are, nearby in the text, identified as having performed heroic service alongside their Anglo-Saxon neighbours in confronting a Welsh invasion. Yet the image that emerges from the literature of these times is one of competing loyalties and overlapping identities, sometimes accentuated by gold.

Such proves to be a recurring feature across time, from Arminius to Kim Philby and now in the rather less sanguineous struggles of our age. The modern European battlefield is one of continental identity politics. Here the European Commission has been heavily engaged.

The European Union is a consortium of states, steadily being administratively drawn together by purse strings. Jean Monnet is supposed to have said that if ‘he were to start anew, he would have started from culture’. Lacking a European demos, something of a fundamental if you are designing a cohesive democracy, an attempt is being made in tandem to create one. The difficulties associated with that ambition may be remembered from the heated debate over the recitals to the Treaty of Lisbon, and whether or not (largely at Polish insistence) Christianity or at least God should get a mention.

Such divisions have not stopped the EU, meanwhile, from generating its own intelligentsia, its own hierarchical elite and, in the process, its own bubble. It was a mission first authorised by Maastricht, and is now a generation and billions of pounds on. The consequence has been the formation of a pro-EU intellectual aristocracy in universities, law, think-tanks, the quangocracy and many specialist circles. It’s been achieved directly and indirectly.

To some extent a measure of parti pris has been inevitable. EU specialists are inherently more inclined to be more pro-EU – just as, I would suggest, human rights lawyers would be statistically more inclined to support a pro-active ECHR; theologians to be theists; professors of Racine to be francophiles; or archaeologists to like ruins. What the Commission has done, however, is to significantly reinforce that inherent bias.

In a past Red Cell paper, I’ve explored the nature of EU grants to the UK in the field of social sciences. The nature and extent of the pitfalls are developed further there – the inherent risk, the generation of an enclosed self-referencing elite, the sponsoring of CVs and fast-tracking the careers of fellow travellers, the skewing of research bids and so on. These have led to the creation of a ‘quango of the mind’ whose prime consequential function in turn is to justify accretion of powers by its patron, the EU institutional core.

The phenomenon is complex and remarkable. Perhaps there’s a research project in it. If so, it won’t get funded by the EU.

In a much earlier paper for Open Europe with Lorraine Mullally, I’ve separately demonstrated how the EU does run what is clearly an extensive propaganda programme. Now, in a paper just out for the Bruges Group, I return to the subject but in the narrow context of the EU’s accelerated drive on Defence Union.

To judge from the output of Defence and Security think-tanks both in the UK and across the EU, the delivery of PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) is barely worth a mention. If it is a topic for discussion, it is a matter for reflecting in terms of relatively narrow elements of administrative improvement. The desperate caveats inserted by more reticent EU states, stating that it is not intended to be a threat to NATO, are taken entirely at face value as applying to the ambitions of the entire EU institutions.

This is demonstrably a nonsense. Moreover, intent and effect are different considerations – especially where the institution in question is a habitual salami slicer.

It is simply not professionally credible for so many Common Security and Defence Policy think-tanks to be so myopic over the developing Defence Union. This is bad detective work unworthy of a polar de Bruxelles. Once one starts to put together the various strands – one such audit by Veterans for Britain is here – the interconnectivity between the stated policy, the committed funding, the institutional elements, the development of a Single Market in Defence, the strategic policy to geographically close down and concentrate European defence sectors, the ambitions for the European Defence Agency, the generation of common assets, the establishment of standing formations … you have to really have your eyes entirely off the tapestry to miss the common thread.

So why have so many Security and Defence think tanks done just that? I am loathe to raise it, but one is inclined to follow the money. The EU funds a number of them. As my Bruges Group paper explores, some of them get very large sums. In some cases the EU is by far the dominant donor.

The same institutions underline their independence and integrity. But even if we take this assertion at face value, that does not remove the inherent risks. We might put it another way. Would, for example, RUSI be as comfortable about how its impartiality is perceived if it started getting the same amount of money from the Kremlin as it is currently getting from the Commission?

Nor does such a defence address the (perhaps immediately unaddressable) question of how to maintain recruitment balance, if the key specialist postgraduate establishments that are the finishing schools to many emerging analysts and experts are run by the EU itself. To extend the above parallel, there was a reason why Angolan and Cuban students were sent to study in Moscow and not Harvard.

By and large, my take is that UK academia is better at handling the risk of bias within the classroom than many other countries that are on the list for EU dole. Outside the classroom though, my experience is that UK academics are often just as bad. Meanwhile, judging by the output of state-funded think-tanks where the EU itself is the state, I would suggest that many of those working on analysing the EU’s Defence Union plans have simply not been doing their jobs.

There then follows a weightier price to pay, when Government turns to them for supposedly impartial counsel.

Which is precisely why the system was set up as it is by the EU in the first place.

And thus the marauding Danes are being let in through the gates.

Lacking a European demos, an attempt is being made in tandem to create one
'The EU does run what is clearly an extensive propaganda programme.'