European Union Code of Conduct

In May 1998, after years of intensive lobbying by European nongovernmental groups, the European Union became the first group of states to accept a regional Code of Conduct. The EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports is a politically binding instrument that seeks to create "high common standards" for all EU members to use when making arms export decisions and to increase transparency among EU states on arms exports.

EU states pledge not to approve arms exports in cases where:

  • the sale would violate the exporting state's commitments under the UN Charter or specific arms control agreements
  • there is a "clear risk" that the weapons will be used for internal repression
  • the arms could provoke or prolong armed conflict
  • there is a "clear risk" that the arms would be used aggressively against another country.

Under the EU Code, EU members also agree to take into account when making their export decisions:

  • the risk of use of weapons against allies
  • the risk of unintended diversion of technology
  • the importing state's record on terrorism, implementation of humanitarian law (non-use of force against civilians), and arms control agreements
  • the effectiveness of the importing state's export control laws and mechanisms
  • the economic situation in the importing state, including relative levels of military and social spending

The EU Code also has a unique operative mechanism designed to increase transparency among EU members while discouraging states from using such information to undercut sales denials by other EU states. EU members are to report to each other "through diplomatic channels" when an export license has been denied based on the Code criteria. If another state intends to grant a license for an "essentially identical transaction" within the past three years, it must first consult with the state that first made the denial. Member states are also required to provide to each other "in confidence" an annual report on their arms exports and implementation of the Code. 

EU member states also pledge to try to get other countries to subscribe to the principles of the Code. Several Central and Eastern European states, Canada, and South Africa have all endorsed the EU Code's principles. At the December 1999 US-EU Summit, the US also endorsed the Code principles for small arms transfers in the US-EU Statement on Common Principles on Small Arms and Light Weapons. The US and EU also expressed their intention to work together on a common set of conventional arms transfer principles at the December 2000 US-EU Summit

Read more about the EU Code of Conduct:

FAS Home | ASMP Home | Search | About ASMP
Publications | Sales Data | Issues | Resources