The EU has long played a leading role in arms export control, both regionally and internationally. The EU common position adopted in 2008 established a unique, legally binding framework with clear common standards controlling the export of arms.
Current events including a conflict on the EU’s borders in the Ukraine, the rise of ISIS in the Middle East and the terror threat from returning jihadis mean a tight, well-regulated EU arms export policy has never been more important.
With these developments in mind, MEPs are conducting a report on the current state of EU common rules on arms exports.
Tunne Kelam, the EPP group shadow rapporteur, identifies whether EU member states supply arms to conflict zones as a key issue for report to focus on. He believes the 2008 common position allows “enough flexibility for independent decision in this regard” though emphasises that member states should “fully comply with the eight criteria,” outlined in the common position.
The criteria includes a respect for human rights in the country of final destination of the arms exports, the aim of securing regional peace, security and stability and acknowledgment of the risk that military equipment maybe re-exported under undesirable conditions.
When assessing the success of the common position, he notes the reversal of France’s decision to sell Mistral assault warships to Russia.
He writes, “one of the most visible examples of functioning control on arms exports is the reversal of the Mistral assault warship selling deal,” with the French government deciding “to cancel the deal with Russia which had committed aggression against the Ukraine and defied the rules of international behaviour.”
Referring to the current conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine, “where it is often difficult to morally and politically assess the fighting sides,” he mentions the importance of the “timely and efficient sharing of information about cases where licences to deliver arms have been denied.”
Kelam also draws attention to the difficulty of every member state possessing “the same information and regional expertise,” saying it is “practically impossible” for this to be the case. In instances such as these national governments should “rely on best practices.”
He concludes by saying arms export controls constitute an “integral part of EU foreign and security policy,” with it imperative that “the new EU strategy takes this into account,” especially in the current “challenging and risky” security environment..
The increasing importance of tighter arms export controls is something Sabine Lösing, the GUE/NGL group shadow rapporteur, also picked up on, saying, “arms exports have a considerable impact not only on security, but also on socioeconomic development.” She called for “a strict arms control system operating with maximum effectiveness.”
She was less supportive of the EU’s current position recognising that while it was “appropriate step forward, no positive steps have been reached so far,” with weapons still being exported to “countries violating one or more of the criteria,” and total sales of arms export licences reaching a record high of €36bn in 2013.
Lösing was nevertheless convinced the EU must remain committed to meeting “its increased responsibilities for peace and security in Europe and the world”, arguing the EU must “take the lead in arms limitations and global disarmament initiatives including non-proliferation and arms transfer controls” across the world.