European Law Monitor

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Firearms for civilian use: Commission proposes stricter rules to combat illicit trafficking


On the 31st May the Commission proposed legislation to combat illicit arms trafficking through improved tracing and control of imports and exports of civilian firearms from and to the EU territory. The adoption of the proposal by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU would bring the European Union legislation in line with Article 10 of the UN Firearms Protocol.

"Combating illicit trafficking of firearms is crucial in our fight against organised crime. That is why the Commission proposed on the 31st May to give EU law enforcement authorities better tools to track movement of firearms coming to and leaving the EU.'', said EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström.

The proposal is based on the principle that firearms and related items should not be transferred between States without the knowledge and consent of all States involved. Firearms should not be exported to or transit through countries that have not authorised the transfer.

The proposed regulation applies only to firearms, their parts and essential components and ammunition for civilian use: firearms intended for military purposes are not concerned. Moreover it only addresses trade and transfers with countries outside the EU; transfers of firearms within the Union are regulated by other EU law. (Council directive 91/477/EEC, as amended by Directive 2008/51/EC).

The proposal lays down procedural rules for export, and import - as well as for transit of firearms. Exports of firearms will be subject to export authorisations, containing the necessary information for tracing them, including the country of origin, the country of export, the consignee, the final recipient and a description of the quantity of the firearms, their parts and components and ammunition.

Member States have the obligation to verify that the importing third country has issued the relevant import authorisation. In the case of transits, third countries of transits need to give notice in writing that they have no objection. Member States must refuse to grant an export authorisation if the person applying has any previous record concerning illicit trafficking or other serious crime.

In order to avoid unnecessary administrative burdens, simplified procedures will apply for the temporary export of firearms for verifiable lawful purposes which include hunting, sport shooting, evaluation, exhibitions and repair.


The Commission negotiated and signed in 2002 the UN Firearms Protocol on behalf of the European Community. The ratification of the UNFP by the Union is pending, as it represents an international commitment for the EU and is consistent with the current EU policy on measures aimed at reducing the proliferation and spread of small arms around the world.

The UNFP is the only international binding instrument on the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition. It supplements the 'United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime’.

In July 2005, the European Commission proposed measures to ensure greater security in explosives, detonators, bomb-making equipment and firearms (COM(2005) 329 final) and highlighted its intention to implement Article 10 of the UNFP as part of the transposition work that would allow the Union to ratify the UNFP.

The present legislative proposal is aimed at finalising that work, by transposing the relevant provisions of Article 10 of the UNFP on ‘General requirements for export, import and transit licensing or authorization systems’.

The accession of the Community to the UNFP also required changes to EU rules concerning transfers of firearms within the EU territory. Those were done by amendments to Directive 91/477/EEC on possession and transfers of firearms within the EU in Directive 2008/51/EC.

For more information

Justice and Home Affairs Newsroom:

Homepage of Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs:


This article is reproduced with the permission of the European Commission REF :  IP/10/635