The aim of the EU arms-trade control framework is to strike a balance between the economic interests of Member States and preventing irresponsible exports to countries that violate human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Principal arms exporters
From 2007 to 2011 the five largest suppliers of conventional weapons, USA (30%), Russia (24%), Germany (9%), France (8%) and the UK (4%), accounted for 75% of global arms exports. In 2011, France, the UK, Germany and Italy were the largest EU exporters, while intra-EU transfers covered 38.6% of the total value of EU export licences. For EU exporters the main export destinations outside the EU were the Middle East, North America and South Asia.
Regulatory framework in the EU
In 2008 the Council adopted a Common Position on the control of exports of military technology and equipment. It provided for exchanges of information between Member States (MS), public transparency and accountability and more restrictive arms exports. MS, as well as the EU, must publish annual reports on its implementation. The 14th annual report covers 2011 and 2012.
The Common Position builds on the EU Code of Conduct on arms exports and defines eight common criteria for MS to follow. Nevertheless, as implementation rests with the MS, serious concerns have been raised regarding the effectiveness of the existing policy instruments in terms of MS’ actual compliance with the common criteria.
However, after a review the Council concluded in November 2012 that the Common Position is still well suited for its stated objectives.
EU exports of dual-use goods and technology (items that can be used for both civilian and military purposes) are regulated by Regulation 428/2009. Directive 2009/43/EC, simplifying transfers of defence-related products within the EU, aims to eliminate barriers in the internal market and encourage the competitiveness of the EU defence industry.
UN Arms Trade Treaty
At international level, the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) opened for signature on 3 June 2013. All MS, other than Poland and Bulgaria, have already signed the ATT. The ATT is a compromise on common international standards for the arms trade and represents the emergence of a new international-law norm that arms transfers must be excluded in cases where there is serious risk of a violation of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and when there is a likelihood that such arms would undermine peace and security. It will also aim to set limits on arms transfers between states and non-state actors. The ATT’s success depends on support from major exporters and importers.
Lifting embargo on exports to Syria
Despite divergent opinions, the EU did not renew its arms embargo for Syria on 27 May, hoping that the possible arming of the opposition would put pressure on the Syrian regime in the planned Geneva Peace talks. Economic sanctions have been kept in place. MS agreed to review the Council’s position before 1 August 2013. They have also agreed not to export arms for the moment.
In their declaration on Syria, MS agreed that any supply, transfer or export of military equipment to Syria will be for the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, and intended for the protection of civilians. In addition, MS undertook to require safeguards against misuse of authorisations.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin expressed disapproval at the EU’s ending of its embargo.
The European Parliament is promoting public transparency in MS’ arms exports, by asking for public reports. It has consistently called for a legally binding EU export-control instrument and for a harmonised EU arms-control policy reinforcing other dimensions of the EU’s external action (promotion of human rights and regional stability).