COARM-NGO meeting, Brussel 24-25 januari

Op uitnodiging van de NGO’s GRIP en Saferworld en de European External Action Service neemt de Campagne tegen Wapenhandel deel aan de ontmoeting tussen maatschappelijke organisaties en ambtenaren van de Council Working Party on Conventional Arms Exports (COARM ) van de Europese Unie. Tijdens de openingssessie hield de Campagne tegen Wapenahndel een inleiding.

Campagne tegen Wapenhandel – Wendela de Vries
COARM-NGO meeting, Brussels 24/03/2014

Thanks to the organisers for this opportunity to reflect on the Consolidated Report. To begin with, I want to point out why this report is important to NGOs.

First, because there are only few sources of information for arms export data. The SIPRI annual figures are very valuable, but as they are based on Trend Values, so on reasoned figures, not on actual figures, they are less suitable for certain kinds of research. For example for comparing who is the biggest European arms exporter in real figures. Or for calculating how big is the share of arms export in the total export of the Union’s nember states.

The Consolidated Report is one of the few sources of transparency on financial export value: .for several reasons:
a) the American Congressial Research Service report on arms export seems to have fallen victim to budget cuts.
b) participation in the United Nations register is very limited, and
c) the original figures, as they appear in national reports, on which the Consolidated Report is based, are inaccessible to most people due to the language problem.

Transparency is important, not only for research purposes but also as a confidence building measure between nations. And as a source for evaluating and comparing foreign policies of the European Union Member States. As the writer of the now suspended Congressional Research Service report, Richard Grimett, once formulated: “Knowing the extent to which individual arms suppliers are transferring arms to individual nations or regions provides Congress (and, in our case, that is EU Member States and the European institutions. WdV) with a context for evaluating policy questions it may confront.”

Therefore it is disappointing that this important figures are published increasingly late. The 15th report concerning 2012, was published in January 2014. More than one whole year – for January 2012 figures even two years – after actual licensing took place. Of course this this is partly due to national governments, such as the Dutch and the Germans, which are very late in handing in their figures. And it is a complex job, with limited secretarial capacity, of putting these sometimes incomparable figures in a consistent frame.

But we have to reverse this trend of increasing delay or the Report will loose its relevance. There is a role in this for NGOs in asking national and European parliaments to put the arms trade report more prominently on their agendas. The Consolidated Report should be put on the European Parliament agenda immediately after publication. This would give the Report more profile. In recent years, several national NGOs managed to create media attention for the Consolidated Report. This also raises its profile. And it gives European citizens some knowledge about what is happening in Brussels. Which is important, notably in a European election year.

However it would also help when the Commission would not hide the report in a pile of publications. In 2013 the Commission has put a lot of communication effort in promoting support for the arms industry for economic and strategic reasons. It would be a good idea when the Commission would also put more effort in showing European citizens that, by imposing a licence-based export policy, it takes peace and human rights implications of the arms industry also very serious. Has there been a press release on the publication of the Consolidated Report?

Having said this, what can we learn from the figures in the 15th Consolidated Report concerning 2012?

France is by far the biggest exporter in 2012, with a volume of 13.7 billion Euro. Spain is the second biggest exporter in 2012. Spain is interesting, because its used to work a lot with the now practically forbidden compensation orders. We will see what happens with Spanish arms exports under the strict Defence Directive regime. Germany might keep its 3th position or compete with France for the top position of European arms exporter. In Germany we have recently seen public debate, much stimulated by NGOs, about democratic control on arms export: should not the Bundestag play a bigger role? So far there seems not much change in policy but the debate is important.
The fourth position for Italy in 2012, with an export volume of 4.1 billion Euro, is primarily due to one big sale of trainer jets to Israel. UK is fifth. And in 2012, these five countries together counted for more than 80% of the Union’s arms exports. Sweden should be added to the list of top exporters to give a complete picture.

In 2012, more than 47.000 (47.868) licences were approved and only 459 denied on the basis of the Common Criteria. Of these denials, only 5 were based on criteria 8, dealing with the economic situation in the country of destination. Criteria 8 is not used to stop arms exports to some highly indebted countries, sometimes even within the European Union itself. There has been indignation about these exports in the public opinion. It is not on the agenda today but I want to have the point made. I think we miss opportunity here.

More figures: in 2012, European Union countries licensed arms exports for nearly 40 (39.9) billion Euro. This included licenses for 9.7 billion Euro to the Middle East, which is an increase of 22% since 2011 to this region. This might include licenses kept on hold when arms exports were suspended for a while in the 2011 Arab Spring. The suspension was short-lived and we do not really see a policy shift in licensing in 2012.

It was a record year for the licensing of small arms to the Middle East, which were worth almost 265 million Euro. It was also a record year for sales of weapon firing equipments and ammunition to the Middle East, with a value of exports reaching 1.2 billion Euro and 448 million Euro respectively.

Sales to Libya continued. They reached over 22.5 million Euro. Despite Libya’s violent internal situation, according to some Libya is on the brink of becoming a failed state. Despite the fact that there is a huge traffic in arms and weak border control. Problem is that oil-rich Libya is an attractive potential big market and all arms companies want to be there.

Licences to Egypt, despite Egypt’s collapsing democracy, increased by over 20% to 363 million Euro. Export include for example armoured vehicles from France for the Egyptian police, according to SIPRI. A fact which cannot be found in the Consolidated Report as France is one of the countries only reporting on licenses not deliveries. In some countries, campaigners consider this a big problem, like in Italy where they say: this is political.

Back to the figures: Saudi Arabia, which is supporting internal repression in Bahrain and rebels in Syria, was the largest single customer for EU arms sales in 2012, obtaining licences for over 3.5 billion Euro. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is not on today’s agenda. There is little to win over Saudi Arabia. We can only raise the issue again and again, but the interests in Saudi Arabia are so big that there is little room for a policy change on a institutional level without strong pressure from outside I’m afraid.

Overall, for the Middle East, 4700 arms export licences were granted in 2012 and only 100 were refused.
We can only conclude that the Common Criteria do not suffice enough, at present, to prevent exports with a high risk to be used in regional or internal conflict. When there is no arms embargo, suspension of arms trade is short-lived and volatile, and one might even wonder if the trade is suspended because problems with deliverance and payment is feared or because there are serious human rights concerns.

On the other hand, even without an embargo the Common Position could help to stop certain transactions. As most of you know, the Czech republic is planing to export 50.000 handguns and 10 million pieces of ammunition to the Egyptian police. The Czech government does not sees any problem. Even if this is true, which I think is not, there is no reason for them to apply the lowest possible threshold. Now some Czech peace groups hope that even if their government gives an export permit, Poland and Germany, from which the weapons must be shipped, will not give a transit permit. That would be a creative and advancing way of using the Common Position, although I am not so hopeful it will happen.

I think there is room for improvement of ethical arms export policy, in or outside the text of the Common Position or Users Guide. I hope that today we have a fruitful and inspiring debate, both for COARM and NGOs to further develop their respective roles. Thanks again for having us here.

Steun Stop Wapenhandel