Soldiers (Image by Daniel Hadman)

Licensing to Kill?

The EU Code of Conduct

The 1998 EU Code of Conduct didn’t contain a list of such materials – goods one should have a license before exporting – but in 2000, a nineteen-page list was added to the original code. The list identified hundreds of conventional weapons, chemical substances, mechanical components, software programs and so-called dual-use objects that need special attention from the authorities. For most of the member states this came on top of a number of other, more specialized multilateral treaties. The Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Agreement already gave guidelines for how to behave when exporting vital parts of nuclear, chemical and biological, and conventional weapons, respectively.

The European Union Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, incorporated on June 8, 1998, started out as an attempt to consolidate the individual EU members’ arms export controls, and to improve cooperation and information sharing. It is not a legally binding document, but a politically binding set of guidelines. The initial document sets down eight criteria for arms exports. Every year, the member states are required to report the previous year’s arms exports to each other and to the COARM working group. COARM is constantly working to improve and upgrade the code of conduct, and publishes an annual report on its activities. The EU Code of Conduct is therefore not a static law, but a dynamic, seemingly organic, set of guidelines whose open sores heal from within when they are discovered. But this lack of rigidity is also the root to some of the code’s biggest problems.

“The code has some intrinsic flaws,” says Antonio Tanca, principal administrator in charge of the COARM working group, pointing out the leeway its adherents have. “It remains very flexible. Member states can be put on the spot when it comes to general transparency, but they can not be put on the spot when it comes to specific cases.”

When the EU Code of Conduct is brought up, Anthony dismisses it in a tone of voice indicating that these problems are too big to make it efficient.

“The code of conduct is not legally binding,” he reemphasizes. “It’s just an agreement between countries, a political understanding.”

That is not to say that he doesn’t see it as a giant step in the right direction, but there still a great deal of work left to do that the EU is not doing well enough.

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