Arms Export Control

The European External Action Service (EEAS) and its Division for Nonproliferation, Disarmament and Arms export control are active in arms export control, supporting responsibility and transparency, and promoting adherence to the highest regional and international standards, such as the Arms Trade Treaty and the EU Common Position on arms export control. 

From the 1998 Code of Conduct to the 2008 Common Position on arms export controls

The EU has for many years played a leading role in arms export control, both regionally and internationally. In 1998 the Council adopted the European Union Code of Conduct on Arms Exports . It established a notification and consultation mechanism for export licence denials, including a transparency procedure, through the publication of the EU annual reports on arms exports. It also laid down eight criteria (see Common Position 2008/944/CFSP ) for the export of conventional arms that EU Member States apply to their licensing decisions:

  1. respect for Member States’ international obligations and commitments, in particular the sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council or the European Union, and agreements on non-proliferation and other subjects;
  2. respect for human rights in the country of final destination as well as respect by that country of international humanitarian law;
  3. the internal situation in the country of final destination – Member States will not allow exports that would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination;
  4. preservation of regional peace, security and stability;
  5. security of Member States and of territories whose external relations are the responsibility of a Member State, as well as that of friendly and allied countries;
  6. behaviour of the buyer country with regard to the international community, as regards in particular its attitude to terrorism, the nature of its alliances and respect for international law;
  7. existence of a risk that the military technology or equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions;
  8. compatibility of the exports with the technical and economic capacity of the recipient country, taking into account the desirability that states should meet their legitimate security and defence needs with minimal diversion of human and economic resources for armaments.

The Code contributed significantly to the harmonisation of national arms export control policies and its principles and criteria have been officially subscribed to by a number of third countries.

The Council assesses implementation of the Code on an annual basis – see 17th Annual Report on Arms Exports. Common Position 2008/944/CFSP, adopted on 8 December 2008, marked the formal successful conclusion of the review of the Code and set another milestone in improving the EU's export control standards. The Common Position notably extends controls to brokering, transit transactions and intangible transfers of technology. (For earlier reports see bottom of page)

Recognising the special responsibility of arms exporting states, the Common Position demonstrates the determination of EU Member States to prevent the export of military technology and equipment that might be used for undesirable purposes such as internal repression or international aggression, or contribute to regional instability.

Article 8(2) of the EU Common Position provides for the publication of an EU annual report. In addition to data provided in the EU annual reports, most Member States publish national reports on arms exports online.

The risk assessment and transparency measures required under the Common Position apply to goods listed in the EU common military list. The most recent version of the list was adopted by the Council on 14 March 2016. The User's Guide, drawn up and regularly updated by the Working Party on Conventional Arms Exports, serves as guidance to assist Member States in implementing the Common Position (cf. Article 13 of the Common Position). It is primarily intended for use by licensing officials.

EU outreach activities to promote the control of arms exports and the principles and criteria of Common Position 2008/944/CFSP among third countries

EU outreach activities significantly developed with the adoption in 2008 of Council Joint Action 2008/230/CFSP that funded seminars, bringing together experts in the control of arms exports from EU Member States and interested third parties, especially ‘near neighbours’. Beneficiaries have included the countries of South Eastern Europe, North Africa and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. The seminars promoted the criteria and principles of Common Position 2008/944/CFSP, as well as assistance in drafting and implementing legislation to ensure effective control of arms exports.

EU arms export control outreach activities developed further with Council Decisions 2009/1012/CFSP of 22 December 2009 and 2012/711/CFSP of 19 November 2012 that provided for additional, more advanced outreach  activities with partner countries. Most recently, a new phase of outreach activities was secured by Council Decision2015/2309/CFSPof 10 December 2015. Compared to earlier phases, the activities funded by Council Decision 2015/2309/CFSP  are more demand-driven and more technical, which reflects the fact that many of the beneficiary countries have over time adopted the necessary regulatory bedrock but are now facing concrete implementation and enforcement issues.

EU support to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

The adoption of the ATT by the UN General Assembly in April 2013 concluded a seven-year discussion and negotiation process within the United Nations that the EU actively supported. EU activities have been funded by three Council Decisions2009/42/CFSP , 2010/336/CFSP, 2013/43/CFSP adopted in support of the ATT process between 2009 and 2012 and allocating in total €2.5m.

The activities raised international awareness of the Treaty process in order to enlarge the scope of supporting countries, promoted the Treaty's principles of greater responsibility and transparency in arms trade, and facilitated the rapprochement of negotiating positions.

The effective implementation of the ATT and working towards universalisation are now significant challenges. The ability to control arms flows carries resource implications and some countries may need significant legal and administrative assistance to be able to effectively implement the Treaty.

Regulating international arms trade is by definition a global ambition and the difference the Treaty can make is therefore proportionate to its scale of adherence. To address challenges, the EU adopted a dedicated ATT implementation support programme under Council Decision 2013/768/CFSP . This programme provides significant funding to support countries – at their request – seeking to strengthen their arms transfer control systems so that they can effectively implement the ATT. Assistance within this framework will involve relevant stakeholders and outreach to other countries.

More details on the EU assistance programme are available at the dedicated EU outreach webportal.

Control of arms brokering

On 23 June 2003 the Council adopted Common Position 2003/468/CFSPon the control of arms brokering. The Common Position establishes provisions to be implemented through national legislation, requiring Member States to regulate brokering activities on their territory or carried out by their nationals. In particular, it requires Member States to subject brokering transactions to licence applications, to establish a system for the exchange of information on brokering activities, and to establish adequate sanctions for effective enforcement.


Earlier EU annual reports on arms exports 

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