The Government of Mariano Rajoy authorized a secret contract to sell arms to Saudi Arabia; Spain exports military vessels to Morocco posing as civilian ships; Turkey uses Spanish-made aircraft in its invasions in northern Syria and Cyprus … All these cases are some examples discovered by journalistic investigations and humanitarian entities, such as the one carried out by elDiario.es and Lighthouse Reports, which show that Spain, like other countries, circumvents European regulation to sell weapons.
The investigation of eldiario.es on Spanish arms exports reaches the court in The Hague
For there to be more control over arms exports from EU countries, to harmonize arms sales policies and to respect the common EU policy, various social organizations – in Spain, FundiPau, Center Delàs and AIPAZ– and the group of the Greens in the European Parliament promote a regulation that reinforces the controls on the export of arms.
German Green MEP Hannah Neumann is the promoter of the initiative in the European Parliament. “We have to make sure that the European Union can really control where the weapons produced within the EU end up,” he says.
Indeed, according to recent Smoking Guns report, from the Transnational Institute, “Arms and military equipment manufactured and licensed in Europe and sold to third countries lead to forced displacement and migration. Furthermore, the arms trade is profit-driven and poorly regulated; European weapons are used directly to destabilize Whole countries and regions and once weapons are commercialized, and although they can be traced, it is virtually impossible to control how they may eventually be used. Likewise, European countries are among the leading exporters of equipment for lethal weapons worldwide, and account for approximately 26% of world arms exports since 2015. The top five European arms exporters are France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, which together account for 22% of exports in the period 2016-2020 “.
“We want to start a debate around the argument that ‘arms exports are a matter for the Member States only,” explains Hannah Neumann. Why? “Although all member states have agreed to a Common Position on arms exports, we see 27 different institutional configurations. National export decisions vary enormously and transparency remains a concern.”
The rules, in theory
The common position of the European Union, which regulates arms exports, establishes that exporting countries must deny authorizations if there is a risk that the material will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported “under undesired conditions”, and it is considered legally binding, “but not there is no court to enforce it, “recalls Neumann:” Different and sometimes opposing national export decisions undermine the EU’s political capacity to influence conflicts and thus its strategic autonomy. Examples are maintenance contracts for military aircraft used by Turkey in Libya, but also exports to Saudi Arabia, which is involved in the war in Yemen. R&D and European arms exports should be accompanied by an EU control by the European Parliament. ”
According to the proposal presented in the European Parliament, “as a procurement market is built in the EU and a European Defense Union, the control of national exports becomes increasingly anachronistic. Several joint weapons projects show how the current set-up of joint production and national licenses can lead to problems, such as when there are divergent national decisions on arms embargoes, as in the case of the Eurofighter and exports to Saudi Arabia. Or the announcement by French President Emmanuel Macron of that he will provide arms to the Egyptian leader, El-Sisi, something that has nothing to do with his respect for human rights. ”
Another case pointed out by the proposal is that “some Member States are increasingly twisting the mechanisms to achieve greater consistency. For example, they must report if they deny an export license, so that others also deny similar exports. However, some do a improper use of this information to contact the potential buyer and offer what has been refused by another Member State “.
The report highlights that weapons produced in the EU continually end up in conflicts around the world, “contributing to human suffering and creating disagreements between Member States. We therefore propose an EU regulation introducing full-scale control community of arms exports, with risk assessment prior to the decision, monitoring and control of the final recipient “.
Common Risk Assessments
The proposed regulation is not aimed at European decision-making on issued national arms export licenses. “The final decision on export licenses will remain in the hands of the member states,” say the promoters. “In very specific cases, a member state could apply for an exemption if it can show that national security interests are at stake.”
However, they propose to establish a joint independent risk assessment body “to increase the policy coherence of export decisions in the EU, avoid disagreements between Member States and ensure the proper application of export criteria”.
The role of this body will be to identify and continuously update a list of countries to which arms exports could be problematic (according to common criteria), which will be presented by the European Commission to the European Parliament and to the Council (the governments of the EU ), which can request modifications. For the countries listed, the risk assessment body will develop a detailed assessment.
According to the proposal, in case an EU company applies for an export license to a country listed as problematic by the joint risk assessment body, the national licensing authority of the relevant Member State should incorporate the recommendations. joint risk assessment body in its decision-making process.
In the event that the respective Member State’s assessment of an arms export application is more restrictive than that of the Joint Risk Assessment Body, the decision of the Member State shall prevail. In the event that a Member State decides to export certain weapons to a destination contrary to the recommendation of the joint risk assessment body, it must provide a written justification for its decision.
This justification should be based on national security interests and should be passed on to the arms export coordination group to be established and to the corresponding committee of the European Parliament.
Transparency and accountability
While the responsibility of member states in decisions on arms export licenses is the focus of the draft regulation, it also refers to arms producing companies, forcing them to exercise due responsibility before applying for an export license. : arms producing companies will need to assess whether potential recipients of military technology meet the common EU criteria.
An additional part of this regulation updates the eight criteria of the EU common position to the current international legal framework of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).
In this sense, the promoters of the regulation suggest “introducing the criterion of the risk of exacerbating gender violence with an export, as well as an evaluation of corruption linked to an export agreement, or a diversion of weapons after the evaluation of the common risk assessment body “.
Proponents call for an annual debate in the European Parliament on arms exports. Following the publication of the commission’s annual report on arms exports, “the European Parliament should hold a debate on the matter to increase transparency, democratic control and public awareness on the issue of arms exports.”
And they add: “In the event that a Member State issues an arms export license to a country to which the risk assessment body recommended that the license be denied, the competent authority of the respective country should have to justify the decision in the European Parliament “.