The European Parliament's foreign affairs committee yesterday adopted a report assessing whether current EU rules on arms exports are being implemented effectively. This issue has taken on a heightened importance given the current security alerts, with fears that exported weapons are finding their way back into the EU illegally.
The ongoing threat from terrorists, horrifically demonstrated with the attacks in Paris this weekend that left at least 129 people dead, has highlighted the need for stricter controls on arms exports. Deactivated guns - widely available online - were found to be used in the Charlie Hebdo attacks, with investigators working to determine whether they were used in last weekend's killings as well. Ongoing conflicts in the Ukraine, the Middle East and North Africa add to concerns.
The importance of stricter controls was noted by Green MEP Bodil Valero, the European Parliament's rapporteur for the dossier. She said, "MEPs have today voted to send a clear signal to EU governments on the need to tighten up EU rules and practices on arms exports.
"Europe's security environment has changed drastically, with armed conflicts destabilising both its eastern and southern neighbourhoods. At the same time we have seen European arms ending up in the hands of repressive regimes, terrorists and criminals, fuelling the conflicts in those countries.
"This underlines why stricter risk assessment is so important before granting arms export deals, as called for in the report."
The report went on to criticise member states' governments for "failing to meet their legal obligation to supply accurate and complete arms export data to the EU."
This accusation was repeated by Ana Gomes, a member of Parliament's subcommittee on security and defence. She accused governments of neglecting the terms of the EU common position on arms export, adopted in 2008.
She tweeted, "EU Govs neglecting common position on arms exports. No wonder more weapons also staying at home & uncontrolled..."
Recent events suggest that access to arms is becoming a greater problem in the EU. This, combined with the freedom of movement the Schengen agreement guarantees, allows criminals and terrorists to transport weapons across borders, virtually unchecked.
It is alleged that the perpetrators of the Paris atrocities purchased weapons in Brussels - the centre of Europe's illegal arms trade - before hiring cars and driving over the border to carry out the attack.
Similar tactics were used by terrorists in the Charlie Hebdo attacks which resulted in the deaths of 12 people earlier this year. Once again, the weapons were allegedly bought in Brussels.
Raids on properties in France linked to this weekend's massacre indicate that jihadis are taking advantage of the ready availability of arms.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 23 people had been arrested and dozens of weapons seized, including a Kalashnikov assault rifle and rocket launchers.
Addressing how terrorists gain access to these arms in the EU is a key aspect of the report. Valero acknowledges this, saying the report will "tackle how arms are getting to terrorists within Europe."
Consequently, she hopes that, "the report will receive strong support from the entire Parliament when it votes in plenary."