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Brussels: peace activists close down office of weapon lobby group

The office of the weapon lobby group AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) was closed down on Tuesday 5th May by peace activists as part of the 'I Stop the Arms Trade' campaign. About twenty activists handed over letters of dismissal to the employees and took over the office. They took this action to protest the influence of the arms industry on European policy making.

"The horror of war and violence is all around us. The European arms trade sustains bloody conflicts", says one of the activists, "Europe is one of the biggest weapons exporters in the world. This has to stop, after all we are talking about human lives here."

After entering the building the activists handed letters of dismissal to the employers, hung banners around the lobby, and occupied the space for one and a half hours.

ASD, voice of the defence industry

The ASD is the voice of the defence industry in Europe. In their office here in Brussels they represent the interests of 15 large businesses and 27 interest groups from 20 countries. The executive functions of the ASD are taken by the CEOs of Europe's biggest arms companies.

Five of those companies (BAE Systems, Airbus, Finmeccanica, Thales en Rolls Royce) are in the top fifteen biggest arms companies in the world. In 2012 the turnover of the European arms industry was 96 billion euros. Almost 40 billion of this was destined for export.

The arms industry desperately needs an expansive trade of weapons to conflict regions in order to be profitable. European weapons pop up in conflicts and in violations of human rights worldwide. Of the 51 regimes labeled as "authoritarian" by the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2012, 43 were able to buy weapons in the European Union.

EU exports insecurity

Thus, Europe de facto exports insecurity. In 2012 all European countries combined delivered 47.868 export licenses for weapons. Only 459 were refused. In 2011, the year in which the Arab Spring was violently crushed, the value of European export licenses to the Arab region totalled 9 billion euros, twice as much as in 2007.

ASDASDSaudi-Arabia is still one of the major destinations for European weapons. IS was in part armed through this flow of weapons.

"Here in Brussels, arms traders meet European policy makers on a daily basis and they are able to lobby for more lenient export regulations", says Pieter Van Eecke, spokesperson for Vredesactie.

EU in need of real security policy

The lack of control and transparency is problematic. Trade between the EU-countries is free and this goes for weapons as well. Businesses can transport weaponry from one EU country to another without any problems and the EU has no enforceable criteria for weapons exports to countries outside the EU.

Meanwhile, arms manufacturers do everything in their power to convince everyone on the planet to buy new weapons. Whether it's in response to a legitimate threat to security is irrelevant.

The EU could choose another path and use its trade policy as a powerful instrument for conflict prevention - as it states in its own security strategy. If this was the case, 45.900 weapons export licenses would be refused instead of 459. It would be a first step to a safer world.

Because of the severity of the problem, peace activists have taken a first step today by closing the offices of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD).