MEPs call for stricter control on arms exports

Members of Parliament vote at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 13 March 2019. [EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER]

EU lawmakers stressed on Wednesday (14 November) the need for tougher checks on EU arms exports and demanded a sanction mechanism to be put in place on those countries that systematically fail to comply with common criteria.

The draft resolution on arms export control was passed by 427 votes in favour, 150 opposed, and 97 abstentions.

“This year’s report goes beyond previous ones. We managed to include an extension of the eight criteria to include military and police personnel. It demands – even though we vehemently reject the newly-established EU armament programmes – that the EDIDP (EU Defence Industrial Development Programme) and EDF (European Defence Fund) be subjected to this control regime,” said German rapporteur Sabine Lösing (GUE/NGL), the author of the Parliament’s annual Arms Exports report.

In some cases, critics point out, arms are exported to crisis countries and violate EU common positions, thus undermining the entire European arms control effort.

“In Yemen, European weapons are fundamentally responsible for the war taking place,” Lösing told MEPs in Strasbourg.

Arms exports to Saudi Arabia in particular – a state that regularly breaks six out of the eight EU criteria for arms exports – have recently proven that European weapons fuel the brutal war in Yemen, where a Saudi Arabia-led coalition is battling Iran-backed Houthi rebels. As much as 95% of the exports have been approved in recent years.

According to the report, there is a lack of sound risk assessments regarding export authorisations and, above all, the “implementation of end-user controls and end-use”.

“We need to put to an end to both the EU’s military madness as well as the unscrupulous and lucrative business of death by European weapons,” Lösing concluded.

The document also referred to the fact that too many European weapons have ultimately landed in the hands of terrorist networks and groups in recent years, referring to “shocking findings” at the “amount of EU-made weapons and ammunition found in the hands of Da’esh in Syria and Iraq.”

Additionally, according to the report, the continued export of arms will “create circumstances that force people to flee their home countries.”

“The Common Position on arms exports must be implemented effectively. That includes, among others, a sanctions mechanism,” Lösing said.

The EU’s Common Position on arms exports lists eight criteria serving as a guideline for member states when issuing arms export licenses.

Following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it is the second time in the past few weeks that MEPs have passed a resolution urging limits on arms sales.

France, Germany, as well as the UK, have in recent years come under fire from human rights groups over sales of arms to the Middle East.

Several members of the UK’s Parliament called to halt similar arms deals with the Gulf Kingdom.

This week, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Paris adhered to strict rules that “stop us selling weapons that might impact civilians.”

“As long as [Khashoggi’s murder] is not cleared up, there will be no arms exports to Saudi Arabia. I assure you of that very decidedly,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said following the killing.

In her Strasbourg speech this week, she also called for a common European arms acquisition policy, which could technically open the way for a more coordinated action. Nevertheless, experts suggest that a united European response on arms sales to Riyadh is unlikely as business interests take precedence over rights abuses.

The EU is the second largest arms supplier in the world with 27% of the global share, after the United States (34%), followed by Russia (22%), according to the EU’s 19th annual report on arms exports.

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