Select Committee on European Scrutiny Second Report



Presidency annual report on the implementation of the EU Joint Action on small arms and light weapons and on the implementation of the EU programme for preventing and combatting illicit trafficking in conventional arms.

Legal base:
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 14 June 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
Discussed in Council: 25 June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested

The Joint Action

10.1 On 16 December 1998, we cleared the Joint Action (JA) in draft form.[22] Since then, we have cleared a number of measures based on it seeking to limit the spread of small arms in different parts of the world.

10.2 The JA includes a number of objectives, principles and measures, including combatting the destabilising accumulation and uncontrolled spread of small arms, reducing existing accumulations to levels consistent with legitimate security needs, and helping to solve the problems which these accumulations cause.

10.3 The EU pledges in the JA to work towards building consensus in international fora on commitments to support these objectives, including:

  • commitments by exporting countries to supply small arms in accordance with criteria set out in the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports;

  • maintaining national inventories and establishing legislation to restrict small arms;

  • combatting illicit trafficking in small arms through effective national controls of arms transfers; and

  • challenging and reversing "cultures of violence" through public education and awareness programmes.

  • assistance to countries seeking to control or eliminate surplus small arms on their territory;

  • encouraging voluntary surrender of surplus or illegally-held weapons; and

  • removing surplus small arms to safe storage and destruction.

The EU programme for Preventing and Combatting Illicit Trafficking in Conventional Arms

10.4 This programme was adopted by the General Affairs Council on 26 June 1997. It seeks to address the problems of illicit trafficking in conventional arms, particularly small arms, both within the EU and in countries affected by illicit trafficking. The first part of the programme suggests fostering enhanced law enforcement co-operation and improving information exchange. The second part encourages the EU and its Member States to assist other countries in combatting illicit trafficking of arms, for instance, by strengthening laws and administrative measures for regulating and monitoring the transfer of arms, and by providing an adequate number of appropriately trained police and customs officials for the enforcement of national arms export control legislation. The third part outlines ways for the EU and its Member States to assist affected countries, especially in post-conflict situations, in suppressing the illicit circulation and trafficking of arms. Methods suggested include setting up:

  • weapons collections;

  • buy-back and destruction programmes; and

  • educational programmes to promote awareness among the local population of the negative consequences of illicit trafficking in small arms.

10.5 A first annual report on the Programme was published on 8 July 1998, and a second on 19 January 2000. The reporting procedure under the Programme has now been co-ordinated with that of the Joint Action.

The report

10.6 This is the first report, so it covers activities undertaken in 1999 as well as 2000. It is in three parts:

  • Part I covers national efforts by Member States to address the problems related to small arms, such as inter-agency co-operation, newly-enacted legislation, and other initiatives such as support for relevant research;

  • Part II covers international measures, such as assistance to projects conducted by international, regional organisations or non-governmental organisations, assistance to affected states, and international conferences. This part also includes EU co-operation with other states; and

  • In Part III the priorities for a more systematic approach to EU assistance in the field of small arms and light weapons are discussed. This part covers the need for a comprehensive approach and targeted action, as well as preliminary criteria for the allocation of funds, and measures to ensure thorough assessment and evaluation of projects supported by EU funds.

— Part I

10.7 Action taken in Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Spain and the UK on internal coordination and exchange of information between administrative and law enforcement agencies are summarised. In the UK an inter-departmental Small Arms Policy Committee was established in 1997 under the chairmanship of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It meets quarterly to monitor and co-ordinate policy developments on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) issues. Regular contact is maintained with NGOs.

10.8 In France a bill has been approved by the Prime Minister which will reform the law applicable to brokers and other intermediaries engaged in commercial arms dealing, not only of SALW but also all arms and war-related materiel which is subject to national regulation.

10.9 A bill on export control and non-proliferation was published by the UK Government in March 2001 which would introduce powers to license brokering transactions.

10.10 Other Member States have taken action in a variety of ways, increasing penalties, passing resolutions and reviewing legislation. The German Government, for instance, has adopted amendments to the "Political Principles for the Export of War Weapons and other Military Equipment".

— Part II

10.11 Projects supported by the EU include the collection and destruction of weapons in Albania,[23] Mozambique,[24] Cambodia,[25] and South Ossetia,[26] as well as a contribution to the UN Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean.[27]

10.12 A number of UN projects have been supported by Member States. The Swedes have contributed to many, but the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Denmark have also made contributions, some substantial.

10.13 Most of the same Member States have been active in organising and participating in international conferences, with the UK funding a conference in Kampala, which led to an outline Action Plan for Eastern Africa and the Greater Horn. The EU took an active interest in preparations for the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects and endorsed Sir Michael Weston as the EU candidate to chair the Conference, which was due to take place in New York on 9 - 20 July 2001.

— Part III

10.14 Priority guidelines have been drawn up by the Member States for improving implementation of the Joint Action and the Programme of Action for future assistance which was expected to be adopted by the UN Conference in July.

10.15 The report recognises that there is a need in future for basic criteria to be met before funds are allocated. Projects have been supported up to now on an ad hoc basis. A list of basic criteria set out in the report includes:

  • a genuine political will in the recipient state;

  • all weapons collected should, in principle, be destroyed;

  • assistance on SALW should be part of an overall strategy of development and security in the recipient country; and

  • for each project, clear objectives, benchmarks and time lines should be set, to enable the impact of the project to be assessed.

Assessments will be carried out by independent experts.

The Government's view

10.16 In an Explanatory Memorandum dated 14 June 2001, the Government describes the report as entirely consistent with UK policy. The Government's aim was to seek as ambitious and far-reaching an outcome as possible from the UN Conference, "in order to make real inroads into tackling the problems associated with small arms proliferation".


10.17 We have drawn this report to the attention of the House in order to demonstrate the extent of the activity in this area which has been undertaken since the Joint Action was adopted in 1999. The importance attached to this activity by the UK and other Member States is emphasised in the Conclusions of the 25 June 2001 General Affairs Council,[28] in which deep concern is expressed at the "tremendous humanitarian problem" caused by the spread of these weapons. In the same Conclusions the Council underlined the high priority it attached to a successful outcome to the UN Conference on 9-20 July 2001.

10.18 We ask the Government to inform us of the outcome of the UN Conference in a Ministerial letter, and meanwhile shall not clear the document.

22  (19638) 14126/98; see HC 34-iv (1998-99), paragraph 10 (16 December 1998). Back

23  (21765) 12746/00; see HC 28-i (2000-01), paragraph 18 (13 December 2000). Back

24  (20740) 13624/99; see HC 23-iv (1999-2000), paragraph 13 (15 December 1999). Back

25  (21789) -; see HC 23-xxx (1999-2000), paragraph 21 (22 November 2000). Back

26  (21823) -; see HC 23-xxxi (1999-2000), paragraph 23 (29 November 2000). Back

27  (22166) -; see HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph 30 (14 March 2001). Back

28  Press Release (10228/01) page IX. Back

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