Blog AnalysisHuman rights - IHL

Arms Trade Treaty: the EU wants to speak with one voice… Not easy!

(Credit:UN Photo/Martine Perret)

(BRUSSELS2) The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a binding legal instrument, is being negotiated at the UN level. The final phase of negotiations will take place in July during a 4-week conference which should result in the signing of the ATT text. The Europeans are intensifying their work to be able to speak with one voice and have influence in the negotiations. Indeed, although the European Union will participate in this conference as an observer, with the right to speak, it cannot vote. It therefore intends for its Member States to adopt the same negotiating strategy. This is the opinion of the European External Action Service and MEPs, who debated (today) the issue during an extraordinary meeting of the Security and Defense subcommittee.

Harmonize international law to defend European interests
There is consensus in Europe on the need for such a treaty at the global level: at the European level, the rules are already quite strict (especially at the national level, in certain countries more particularly, such as Germany). At EU level, a Common position of 2008 establishes these rules for exports, according to 8 criteria (compliance with international conventions, political situation and respect for human rights in the recipient country, risk of transfer to other countries, etc.). For certain criteria, the export is automatically declared illegal if they are not respected. For others, there is then a case-by-case assessment.
The challenge of the ATT for the Member States is therefore to put the European arms sector on an equal footing with that of other regions, which do not benefit from such tight control. Particularly the United States and Russia. Remember that the arms market is dominated by a small number of exporters, and if the USA is largely in the lead with 53,7% of exports for the period 2005-2009, the European Union still represents 29%. . It is therefore a question for Europeans of fighting against unfair competition from other players. Member States therefore intend to support their industry in this sector which, as recalled by MEP Anneli Jäättenmäki (ALDE, Finland, rapporteur on the EP resolution on the ATT negotiations), remains in full growth despite the crisis and represents lots of jobs.

One voice for the EU? Not so easy…

However, not all Member States have the same approach: the arms sector is more important for some (the United Kingdom (12,5% ​​of world exports) and France (6%)) than for others. 'others. Therefore, "EU cohesion may be tested” declared Fabio Della Piazza, chair of the Council’s “conventional arms trade” (COARM) working group and in charge of the issue at the EEAS. The latter had also recalled last April that officially, there was no common EU position for these negotiations at the UN. MEPs, however, call on Member States to reach an agreement and speak with one voice.
* And the EU has regularly responded to requests from the UN Secretariat General to give its position on certain elements of the draft treaty. In its latest response, which should be published in a UN SG report in a few weeks, and which has been approved by all Member States, the EU reiterates its support for the future treaty. The EU's response indicates in particular that it must concern all “transfers” of arms (that is to say not only imports/exports, but also transits and re-exports), that products also although commercial activities must be clearly defined in the text, and export authorizations or refusals must be based on “ambitious and comprehensive” criteria. This is a principled position on which there is consensus within the EU, with Member States remaining free to negotiate the precise provisions of the treaty.
A priori, the TCA should therefore be less strict than the rules already in practice in Europe: the important thing is rather to give a binding legal framework to countries which do not yet have one, that is to say more 40 UN member countries according to MEP Tarja Cronberg (Greens, Finland). “Let's be realistic” she declared. He is "likely that between Member States we will have to agree on less strict criteria” than those already existing in the EU, according to Fabio Della Piazza. The TCA should in any case remain compatible with European rules, by authorizing its signatories to adopt stronger measures.

As MEPs have pointed out, the important thing is just as much, if not more, to ensure the proper implementation and respect in practice of the treaty. Which is another question...

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