EU must do better at enforcing arms exports rules

Written by Bodil Valero on 27 June 2017 in Opinion

For the common position to work, member states must apply the criteria fully and coherently, writes Bodil Valero.

Bodil Valero | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

In Yemen, neighbouring Saudi Arabia has been leading a bombing campaign that has targeted and killed thousands of civilians and a naval blockade that has left up to 80 per cent of Yemenis on the verge of famine. Even so, EU countries continue to export weapons to Saudi Arabia for billions of euros.

In Egypt, the military regime is brutally silencing all dissent and political opposition. Despite the Council's conclusions of 2013 where it was agreed to halt all exports, deliveries have continued.

In conflict-torn Syria, EU-made weapons are being found in the hands of militias and terrorist groups, prolonging the suffering and destruction.


Therefore, when drafting the European Parliament's annual report on arms export control for the second time, I focused mainly on analysing the implementation of the eight criteria of the Council's common position, reporting and parliamentary scrutiny.

The EU rules on arms export, the so-called 'common position', are clear and just. But the eight criteria are applied differently depending on the rule and which recipient state you look at. Frequently, so-called 'strategic allies' or 'friendly nations' get a pass, even when they clearly do not fulfill the criteria. This is unacceptable. The criteria must be applied fully and coherently.

Since arms have a long life span, it is essential to make long-term risk assessments. Instead of simply assessing each product and the risk of it being misused,

I propose using a precautionary principle and also to look at the situation in the recipient states, including democratic governance indicators.

For scrutiny to work we need reliable statistics. But today, member states sometimes submit reports that are both late and incomplete, making it difficult for parliaments, journalists or citizens to hold governments accountable. I therefore propose introducing sharp deadlines for reporting and clear and uniform format requirements.

Instead of reporting on the value and quantity of licenses granted, I propose switching to reporting on actual deliveries, something that only a few member states currently provide. By digitalising the reporting system, we can make the reporting more timely and by putting it online in an interactive database that is open to the public, enable the necessary democratic scrutiny that our public is entitled to.

During the negotiations in the foreign affairs committee, amendments were put forward on possible sanctions for countries not following the common position. This is something the shadow rapporteurs and I will look deeper into.

With this report, I hope the European Parliament will send a strong signal to the Council and the world, that we do not accept arms ending up in the wrong hands. Arms should be produced for our legitimate defence needs, as a means for our security. But we should never accept that they are exported in a manner that violates our rules, contradicts our values or weakens our security.


About the author

Bodil Valero (Greens/EFA, SE) is Parliament's rapporteur on arms export: implementation of common position

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