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The review of the EU common position on arms exports: prospects for strengthened controls

Non-proliferation Paper No. 7

Non-proliferation Paper No. 7

Publisher: SIPRI
January, 2012

In recent years there have been ongoing efforts at the European Union (EU) level to strengthen and harmonize member states’ arms export policies, particularly through the 1998 EU Code and its successor, the 2008 EU Common Position on arms exports. During 2012 EU member states are undertaking a review of the EU Common Position. Coincidentally, this review comes at a time when several EU member states have been criticized for their arms exports to states in the Middle East and North Africa in the years preceding the Arab Spring. These revelations have reignited long-standing debates about the extent to which the EU Common Position has truly led to a harmonization of member states’ arms export policies. This paper analyses the history of the EU Code and the EU Common Position and, through a discussion of arms exports to Libya—one of the states that was later affected by the Arab Spring—explores the extent to which member states’ arms export policies have become harmonized. Finally, the paper presents ideas for the review of the EU Common Position focusing on, among other things, the development of improved systems of information sharing, better guidance on export licensing decision-making and improved engagement by the European Parliament.


Mark Bromley is the Co-Director of the SIPRI Dual-Use and Arms Trade Control programme.