Flanders at the vanguard of review of EU instrument on arms exports

  • September 16, 2019

On 16 September, the Council of the EU approved the revision of the Common Position on Arms Exports 2008/944/CFSP, the EU's main instrument on arms exports. It is the first time that the text, which was adopted in 2008, has been changed. Flanders - in coordination with the Federal government and the other Regions - played a prominent role in the review process. Since 2003, arms export control has been a predominantly regional competence.

The Common Position contains the eight assessment criteria that all EU Member States must take into account when deciding on arms export licenses. These criteria require Member States to assess, inter alia, the compliance of the recipient country with its international obligations, and the risk that the arms might negatively affect respect for human rights and the preservation of the peace, security and stability of the recipient country and its region. In addition, the Common Position also contains provisions on reporting on arms exports and the exchange of information between EU Member States.

At the proposal of Belgium and Flanders, these rules on reporting and information exchange are now being tightened. There will be, inter alia, a public database including the annual arms export data of all Member States. The User’s Guide, the handbook that helps the Member States to correctly apply the Common Position, is also updated in that sense.

The assessment criteria in the Common Position have also been updated and the User’s Guide pays more attention to the application of the criteria on corruption and gender-based violence. Belgium and Flanders also proposed to strengthen the assessment criteria on human rights and diversion of weapons to unauthorized users. This was important for Flanders, because its own Arms Trade Act already contains stricter criteria. However, the Belgian proposals found no consensus.

The changes that were adopted must lead to more harmonization and cooperation between EU Member States, and to more transparency.

The review of the Common Position was dealt with in the EU Council Working Party on Conventional Arms Exports (COARM). In this working party, officials of both the Federal government and the Regions represent Belgium. Tom Nijs, expert from the Flanders Department of Foreign Affairs, acted as spokesperson for Belgium during the review process. He was also appointed as pen holder for the review of the requirements concerning transparency and information exchange. This assignment was in line with his function in the context of the UN Arms Trade Treaty and the special attention that Flanders gives to transparency in the international arms trade.

More information on the evision of the Common Position