The EU Action Plan on Firearms and Trafficking
Trafficking of firearms is a major threat for EU citizens. That is why the Commission has developed specific policy to address the issue in the 2013 Communication on Firearms, the 2015 European Agenda on Security and in the Security Union Strategy 2020-2025. Since 2014, the EMPACT Cycle develops operational action plans to prevent and tackle firearms trafficking.
As identified by the Commission’s Evaluation of the 2015-2019 action plan on firearms trafficking between the EU and the south-east Europe region, many challenges remain and that is why a new set of actions where necessary. On 24 July 2020, the Commission adopted an EU Action plan on firearms trafficking 2020-2025 with four priorities:
Priority 1: Safeguarding the licit market
The EU has amongst the toughest rules in the world on the civilian sale of automatic rifles and the most dangerous semi-automatic weapons. For example, the EU created common standards for the deactivation of firearms, marking and other. Work continues with:
- Full implementation of the Firearms Directive
- Application report on emerging and future threats
- EU Firearms reference table for easier classification
- Impact assessment on EU legislation on controls for import and export of civilian firearms
- Supporting UN international standards
Priority 2: A better intelligence picture
The EU focuses on improving knowledge of threats arriving from trafficking in firearms, by addressing the lack of comparable statistics on firearms events and seizures across the EU. The focus is on the following:
- Systematic use of Schengen Information System and INTERPOL’s iARMS
- Complementarity between SIS and iARMS
- Establishing a systematic and harmonised collection of data on seizures of firearms
- Real-time tracking of firearms-related incidents
- 24/7 monitoring of the darknet
Priority 3: More pressure on criminals
The EU acknowledges the need to reinforce law enforcement to stop the traffickers by addressing the following:
- Establishing focal points at national level
- Ratification of the UN Firearms Protocol by remaining EU countries
- Establishing common criminal law standards on trafficking of firearms
- Alignment with the work of EMPACT Firearms
- Improving cooperation between law enforcement, prosecutors and forensics
- Better use of training
- Cooperation between law enforcement and parcel and postal operators
Priority 4: More international cooperation
The EU will step up international cooperation, with a strong set of activities focusing on south-east Europe. The focus lies on:
- Cooperation with North Africa and the Middle East through committing more personnel
- Stepping up the cooperation with Turkey
- Continue the support to the Sahel region
The EU supports the fight against firearms trafficking and cooperation between the EU and other countries, mostly around the Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa and South East Europe. For the Western Balkans, the EU adopted a unified action plan. This integrates the 2018 Regional Roadmap on combating illicit arms trafficking in the Western Balkans into the EU framework through:
- Meeting the funding needs through the Internal Security Fund and the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance and improved donor coordination
- Focus on an extended south-east Europe: Western Balkans, Ukraine and Moldova
- Creating a coordination process by streamlining existing bodies, coordination, and integrated approach of SEESAC, more engagement in meetings and using the advantage of the accession process
The UN Firearms Protocol (UNFP)
This Protocol is an international instrument of "mixed" competence between the EU and its countries. It entered into force on 3 July 2005. Thus far, 25 EU countries have signed the Protocol: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, EL, Spain, Finland, France, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden. (AT, BE, BG, CY, CZ, DE, DK, EE, EL, ES, FI, FR, HR, HU, IT, LT, LV, LU, NL, PL, PT,RO, SK, SI, SE), but only 20 are contracting parties: Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Spain, Finland, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden. (BE, BG, CY, CZ, EE, ES, FI, HR, HU, IT, LT, LV, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SI, SE; see status of ratification).
The Commission negotiated and signed the UNFP on behalf of the EU in 2002 and proposed its ratification in March 2013. All the provisions of the protocol that fall under the EU's competence are fully transposed into EU legislation.
Firearms and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
The excessive accumulation and uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons (SALW) contribute to organised crime and terrorism. SALW also have a negative impact on the security of many countries, threatening their economies and political stability.
The various problems caused by the spread of illicit SALW have led the EU to recognise their destabilizing effect on regional and national security. Therefore, the EU remains committed to the establishment of an international instrument on arms trading. The EU has taken several initiatives as part of its Common Foreign and Security Policy. They include, for example:
- Common Position on arms export control
- Common Position on arms brokering
- EU Strategy to combat illicit accumulation and trafficking of SALW
The purpose of the SALW Strategy is to contribute to an integrated, coherent and visible EU action against the accumulation and spread of such arms and weapons. The political aim is to implement and strengthen the United Nation Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons.
In the EU, arms exports have to be assessed against eight risk assessment criteria. The criteria relates to the risk of human rights and humanitarian law violations, the risk of diversion, and the risk of internal or regional instability. The EU promotes responsibility and transparency by both exporting and importing countries, as well as adherence to the highest regional and international standards.