EU action plan on firearms trafficking 2020-2025

In “Promoting our European Way of Life”

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The EU considers 'firearms' to designate weapons destined for civil use, while small arms and light weapons (SALW) are 'specially designed for military use' (including firearms for military use). The EU has put in place the legislative framework to tackle trafficking in firearms (within its internal security policy framework) and illicit SALW (within the EU's external competences).

With the 2010 EU Internal Security Strategy and the European Action Plan to combat illegal trafficking, a link between the internal and external aspects was established. The approach was reinforced in 2018 with the new EU strategy against illicit firearms, small arms and light weapons and their ammunition, replacing a 2005 EU Strategy. The new strategy ‘takes into account the evolved security context, including the threat of terrorism inside the EU and developments in SALW design and technology affecting the capacity of governments to address the threat’.

The Commission adopted in 2013 a Communication on 'Firearms and the internal security of the EU' and in 2015 the European Agenda on Security. In 2014, EU Member States produced the first operational action plan on Firearms (EMPACT Firearms) in the context of the EU Policy Cycle 2014-2018. The same year, the EU ratified the UN Firearms Protocol, to the extent of its competence (i.e. the common commercial policy and the internal market), making it binding in this respect for all EU Member States. Among others, the EU relies on the Firearms Directive (Directive 91/477/EEC, as amended by Directive (EU) 2017/853) and Regulation 258/2012 on illicit manufacturing and trafficking of firearms which establishes authorisation standards on imports, exports and transfers of firearms for civilian use. In 2015 the Commission proposed its 'firearms package' including, besides the revision of the EU Firearms Directive, also an action plan to counter the illegal trafficking of weapons and explosives.

Externally, a series of CFSP instruments focus on exports control and providing funding for various initiatives to counter the illicit trade of SALW and to support implementation of multilateral instruments (such as the Arms Trade Treaty) in this area.

As the Western Balkans were identified as one of the main supplying regions of trafficking to the EU, cooperation with the region increased. In December 2014, the EU and the Western Balkans states agreed the Action Plan on illicit trafficking in firearms between the EU and the South East Europe region (2015-2019). In this context a Regional Roadmap was adopted in 2018, supported by EU funding.

The new Commission Action Plan on firearms trafficking contributes to the priority on fighting organised crime of the recently issued Security Union Strategy 2020-2025. It constitutes a single action plan for both the EU and partners in south-east Europe (besides the Western Balkans, also Moldova and Ukraine) to 'address remaining legal loopholes and inconsistencies in firearms controls that hinder police cooperation'. The action plan is built around the performance indicators developed in the context of the regional Roadmap by Western Balkans authorities in cooperation with SEESAC (South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons), as well as around four priorities:

  • Safeguarding the licit market and limiting diversion: this includes, among other actions, the correct transposition and enforcement by all Member States of the Firearms Directive and corresponding acts; also, the Commission will issue a report on the Directive's application (in 2021) and will conduct an impact assessment on EU legislation on import and export controls of civilian firearms.
  • Building a better intelligence picture: this priority refers to a better use of existing databases (e.g. the Schengen Information System or INTERPOL's iARMS) for information on lost and stolen firearms; to a systematic and harmonised collection of data on seizures of firearms; and developing tools to monitor the darknet.
  • Increasing pressure on criminal markets; this priority includes increased operational cooperation, including training opportunities; an assessment of the need to establish common criminal law standards on trafficking in firearms in EU law based on Article 83 TFEU, as well as the ratification of the UN Firearms Protocol by the remaining EU Member States. Other actions aim to improve cooperation between law enforcement and parcel and postal operators for a stricter control of shipments of firearms or their components.
  • Stepping up international cooperation: this priority, based on the 2018 EU strategy, will aim to increase cooperation with countries in North Africa and the Middle East, in Africa and with the Western Balkans countries, Ukraine and Moldova.

The action plan also contains a series of specific actions for the south-east Europe region focused on three main strands, based on the Roadmap: 1) harmonising the legal environment, facilitating capacity-building and modernising the administrative structure; 2) increasing stockpile security and stockpile reduction; 3) increasing operational cooperation and exchange of information.

The Commission's work programme for 2021 includes a revision of Regulation 258/2012 on export authorisation, and import and transit measures for firearms. The revision aims to improve traceability of firearms, improve exchanges of information between national authorities, increase the security of export and import control procedures etc. The Commission presented its proposal to update EU rules on the import, export and transit of firearms for civilian use on 27 October 2022.

As a complementary measure, a Commission delegated regulation under the Firearms Directive, establishing a system for exchange of information among Member States on refusals to grant authorisations for acquiring a firearm entered into force on 21 May 2021. 

Currently, all EU Member States have ratified the UN Firearms Protocol.


Author: Carmen-Cristina Cîrlig, Members' Research Service,

As of 20/10/2023.