The EU is one of the biggest producers and exporters of arms in the world and while a code of conduct governs sales of military equipment to third countries, nothing exists at EU level on exports of arms for civilian use. On Wednesday Parliament's Trade Committee gave a green light to new rules aimed at making exports of arms for sport and recreational uses more transparent and efficient, while helping to fight illegal trafficking.
"This is the first binding instrument related to small arms, Parliament's draftsman for the report, Italian EPP member, Salvatore Iacolino said.
A common frame for better control
The regulation establishes rules for export authorisation and the import and transit of firearms. It is based on parts of the 2001 UN Firearms Protocol, aimed at fighting the illicit manufacturing and trafficking of firearms.
So far only 13 EU countries have ratified the protocol (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain). The EU Regulation will enforce common rules for exports, allowing the EU to comply with the protocol. It applies only to business with third countries, and not between member states.
What will change?
An "export procedure" will be introduced under which member states will be granted export authorisation after getting a green light from the country they are exporting to and so long as there are no objections from transit countries. Authorisation should be granted within 60 days of the request and would be valid for 12 months, or up to 2 years in some cases.
"This will allow the streamlining of the bureaucratic machine, introducing very simple procedures in order to accelerate trade when related to civil activities such as hunting," Mr Iacolino said. "Of course, when there are reasonable reasons to believe that the transfer is masking arms traffic, the member states will be able to refuse the authorisation".
Illegal traffic, a prosperous business
The new rules should help fight illegal trafficking, "because we can control and trace the exports thanks to the improved communication between states". Homogenous rules will make control and sanctions easier. "We shouldn't forget that this is a very prosperous business for organised crime," Mr Iacolino said.
Arms business is big business
According to the last Council report, in 2009 the EU authorised the export of €40.3 billion in military equipment.
"We shouldn't forget that this industry is an important one for Europe, making a significant contribution to GDP and employment. Delays and inefficiency on the part of individual national administrative authorities should be progressively eliminated thanks to this legislation," Mr Iacolino said.
Mr Iacolino has a mandate to negotiate directly with the Council ahead of a vote in plenary, in order to reach a first reading agreement. The first meeting will be in May.