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Explainer: Revision of EU rules on the import and export of firearms

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Why is the Commission proposing a revision of EU rules on import and export of firearms?

The Commission is proposing a revision of the current Firearms Regulation to better facilitate the legal trade of firearms for civilian use, while tackling security aspects linked to firearm trafficking through improved traceability of firearms and better and easier exchange of information between national authorities. This comes as a follow up to the 2020-2025 Action plan on firearm trafficking.

Under the current rules, it is not mandatory for Member States to provide data on import and export of firearms. This hinders the development of targeted policies and research in the field of firearm trafficking. There are an estimated 35 million illicit firearms owned by civilians in the EU, corresponding to 56% of the estimated total of firearms. To prevent their trafficking, it is important to keep track of all of them. Better data and information exchange between national authorities will also reduce the risk of firearms legally manufactured and exported from the EU being diverted into the illegal market. For example, on 25 September 2019, the Moldovan authorities received a request to import 130,000 cartridges from Slovakia, the same day the same authorities received a request to export the same amount of cartridges to Belarus, a country subject to a weapons embargo.

Clearer, harmonised rules will facilitate the trade and movement/ of firearms for firearms manufacturers, dealers, and users. The proposal will decrease the administrative burden significantly through digitalisation and improved knowledge of the rules throughout the EU, while national authorities will benefit from a unified process and control mechanisms.

Is this proposal linked to the current situation in Ukraine?

 The main aim of the proposal is better regulation of  legal imports, exports and the transit of firearms for civilian use, which was  announced in the 2020-2025 EU Action plan on firearm trafficking. Therefore, there is no link between the proposal and the export of firearms for military purposes to Ukraine.

 What is the scope of this revision?

The scope of this revision is to better regulate the import, export and transit of firearms for civilian use, essential components, ammunitions and alarm and signal weapons. It does not regulate transactions or direct sales of the armed forces, the police, or public authorities, regulated by a Council Common Position governing control of exports of military goods. The proposal aims to balance the need for increased security and the facilitation of legal trade of firearms.

Current EU legislation presents a lack of clear objective criteria set in both the Firearms Regulation and the Common Position to establish whether firearms, essential components or ammunition are of military or civilian nature. This leaves room for divergent interpretations and inconsistencies in the application of the correct export regime to items that fall in this area.

What are the key elements of the proposal to revise the Firearms Regulation?

The proposal provides an updated framework of rules that will improve the traceability of firearms, the exchange of information between national authorities and harmonise rules at EU level.

It will include:

Harmonised import rules: the current Regulation ((EU) 258/2012) lacks rules on import authorisation. It only indicated that the Firearms Directive is applicable when importing firearms. As a result, currently there is no harmonisation or standardisation of rules when importing firearms for civilian use in the EU. Today’s proposal introduces a full new chapter on import rules: containing clear provisions for all the different actors involved.

Harmonised export rules: the evaluation of the current Regulation shows that not all rules were implemented in a harmonised manner. The proposal clarifies certain export rules to ensure harmonisation.

Administrative simplifications for hunters, sport shooters and exhibitors    importing or exporting firearms, their essential components and ammunition. For example, hunters that decide to temporary travel outside the EU with their firearms, will receive authorisation for this movement through a simplified procedure. They would not need prior import or export authorisations; the customs declaration will be sufficient.

New rules for alarm and signal weapons, which are devices manufactured to only be able to fire blank, tear gas or irritant ammunition. These will need to comply with the technical standards of non-convertibility (prove that the device cannot be converted to expel a shot, bullet or projectile), or else they should be imported as firearms.

A better overview of the buying and selling of semi-finished components of firearms: only licensed dealers and brokers will import them, reducing the threat of home-made firearms without marking or registration (“ghost guns”).

A new EU electronic licensing system for firearms manufacturers and dealers to apply for import and export authorisation, will replace the diverse, mostly paper-based national systems. This new paperless system will save applicants time and simplify the process, as requested by stakeholders who participated in the public consultation. The system will also connect to the EU Single Window Environment for Customs, in line with the Commission plan towards streamlined customs controls and trade facilitation through enhanced digital cooperation between authorities at EU borders.

Clear rules for improved cooperation and information exchange between national authorities. Exchanging information between Member States on refusals to grant an import or export authorisation will stop individuals ‘shopping’ around in the EU to obtain such an authorisation. Furthermore, a clear division of tasks between customs and competent authorities helps the implementation of the rules and increases the harmonisation throughout the EU.

What is the difference between military and firearms for civilian use?

The main differences are the specific characteristics, especially calibres and the use of them. Nowadays there are many models of firearms which are equipped by Armed Forces for a military purpose (assault rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, etc). These models come in military standard calibres, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or STANAG (STANdardisation AGreement).

Models manufactured for civilian use, even if they share some characteristics with military models, come with civilian calibres and can be acquired and possessed by civilians. They are intended for purposes such as shooting sports and hunting, and fall under specific requirements set out in the Firearms Directive. Some models of firearms designed for military purpose can also be acquired and possessed by civilians under specific circumstances and more restrictive security measures.

What are alarm and signal weapons?

Alarm and signal weapons are devices with the appearance of a firearm, but whose mechanism allows only the firing of blank ammunition, irritants, or other active substances. They are usually used for recreational purposes, films or shooting practice. They are defined in Article 1(4) of Firearms Directive.

If properly manufactured according to technical specifications stated in Implementing Directive 2019/69, they are declared as non-firearms, which would make procedures for import and export much easier. The revision establishes clear rules for competent authorities to assess the non-convertibility of such devices at the moment of import. 

Why do we facilitate legal trade of firearms?

There are many legitimate reasons for which people may own and trade firearms legally, such as hunting, shooting sports, collecting or for professionals working in the security field such as private security firms. This proposal will facilitate legal trade by creating a level playing field and reducing the administrative burden placed on firearms manufacturers, dealers and users. The digitalisation of the procedure will facilitate the requesting and granting of import and export authorisations. The current, often still paper-based, procedure was clearly identified as burdensome during the public consultation. Having harmonised rules will also prevent firearms manufacturers and dealers from being subject to different rules across the EU. This will facilitate the equal trade for all involved stakeholders.

Even though this proposal is facilitating legal trade, this is balanced with added security measures. For example, only licensed dealers and brokers will be authorised to import semi-finished components of firearms. This, together with the introduction of a certification that the buyer is the final recipient of the goods (end-user certificate), will reduce the risks of diversion in the hands of criminals.

Around 150,000 people are working in the trade and manufacturing of firearms for civilian use in the EU.  Revenue from sale of this kind of firearms, alarm and signal weapons, their parts and components, and ammunition reached over €4.3 billion in 2020. The EU27 is a net exporter of firearms for civilian use, alarm & signal weapons, their parts and components and ammunition to third countries. The total value of exported good reached €1.342 million in 2020, while the value of imported goods was around €462 million. Moreover, the EU is not only a net exporter but is, on aggregate, the first exporter of firearms for civilian use, alarm and signal weapons, parts and components, and ammunition in the world in terms of export value (2020) followed by the USA.

Does the proposal limit the acquisition and possession of firearms for EU citizens?

No, on the contrary, the proposal will facilitate legal importation of firearms for civilian use for EU citizens. It will harmonise the rules among Member States; reduce the time of operations through digitalisation, and simplify procedures in case of temporary importation or exportation for hunters, sport shooters or movements linked to exhibitions, for example, where firearms manufacturers and dealers organise conferences to show their products.

The only limitation will be on the importation of semi-finished firearms and their essential components, which is restricted to dealers and brokers. Sport shooters and hunters will therefore still be able to buy spare parts through licenced firearms dealers in the EU.

The hunters operating in the EU already have to comply with the requirements of the Firearms Directive on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons and hence will not be affected by the new provisions in the Regulation that aim to ensure coherence between the Firearms Regulation and the Firearms Directive. Besides the limitation on the semi-finished firearms and components, there are no extra limitations added.

The new rules will alleviate some of the administrative burdens currently experienced by the hunters, sport shooters and collectors. For example, if a sport shooter has to go outside of the EU for an event or a hunter wants to join a hunt outside of the borders of the EU, they can use the EU firearms Pass, go to the border and fill in the customs declaration, without the need to go through the process of asking for an export authorisation for their firearms, essential components or ammunition. This procedure also facilitates the re-import of these firearms, essential components and ammunition. The current Regulation already had such a provision but it was not applied in a harmonised way in the EU. The proposal will make sure that it is. Furthermore, there was no such simplified procedure for the temporary import of firearms, their essential components and ammunition. The proposal amends this.

How will the proposal help address security issues related to firearms trafficking? 

Firearms trafficking is one of the main serious and organised crime activities in the EU, a key enabler also for other types of crime, such as drug trafficking.

The threat of violent incidents has increased by frequent use of firearms in public. This generates a sense of insecurity and undermines public confidence in national authorities. A  study by the Flemish Peace Institute, identified 23 mass-shooting incidents in Europe from 2009-2018, which killed 341 people and injured many more. Europol reported that most terrorist attacks in 2020 were perpetrated by simple means, including stabbing, vehicle ramming and arson, but firearms were used in the deadliest attacks of that year: the right-wing terrorist attack in Hanau (Germany) on February 2022 and the jihadist attack in Vienna on 2 November 2020.

Almost all firearms are legally manufactured and brought to the market. However, firearms have a long lifespan, even over 100 years. Some are diverted, stolen, or lost and end up in the illegal market. Improving their traceability is key. The Commission proposal focuses on improving exchange of information between law enforcement, licensing authorities and customs, to make sure that all shipments of firearms, entering, exiting, or passing through the EU, are known, and can be traced.

The new proposal introduces authorisation for intra-EU transit. This means firearms which transit through the customs union before being imported into the EU or after being exported from the EU, and an authorisation for external transit, so firearm shipments which pass through the territory of the customs union without the intent of being imported.

When granting import or export authorisations, competent authorities will have to check the Schengen Information System II database to establish whether the firearms are subject to the authorisation request have been reported lost or stolen. Also, when granting import or export authorisations, this initiative obliges competent authorities to check the criminal record of the applicant in the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), which connects national criminal databases.

Moreover, the initiative also establishes the obligation to exchange information regarding refusals to grant authorisations, to avoid individuals ‘shopping’ around in the EU for authorisations. Competent authorities will have to check the central system, containing all refusals, before granting an import or export authorisation.

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Strong will to enhance bilateral relations between Serbia and Pakistan

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Although the Republic of Serbia and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are two sovereigns, independent states, with different cultures, religions, languages, histories, and ethnicities. One is located in Europe and the other in Asia. Yet, there exist so many similarities and commonalities, which provide a strong basis and convergence of interests.

Both, Serbia and Pakistan, are developing countries and struggling to improve their national economies and the standard of life of respective nations. Both nations were victims of the Western world and sanctions. Ugly media has been projecting a distorted image of both countries. Hindrances created by Superpowers in the path of development are a common phenomenon in both cases.

People in both countries are hardworking, strong, resilient, and capable of surviving in harsh circumstances. Both have demonstrated in the past that they can resist pressures from any superpower. Both have learned the lessons from past bitter experiences and are determined not to repeat the same in the future.

In my recent visit to the Republic of Serbia, I noticed that there exists a fair awareness in Serbian regarding Pakistan. I came into a cross with the general public and common people and they know a lot about Pakistan. They have shown strong feelings for Pakistan. There exists immense goodwill for Pakistan among Serbian youth.

Both countries are in the process of industrialization and promoting trade. Currently, both countries are earning from the export of workforce and human resources. Serbian youth are working in Western Europe and sending back foreign exchange. And Pakistan workforce finds a convenient destination in the Middle East for earning more and sending back foreign exchange to Pakistan. But, both nations have the potential to earn through export and foreign trade.

Serbia is known as the gateway to Europe and Pakistan is the gateway to Oil-rich Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, and Eurasia. Both countries can utilize each other for re-export too.

Both countries are far away from each other but, a strong bond of friendship and mutual understanding is admirable. Based on the convergence of interests, we can cooperate with each other. Especially can help each other in their areas of weaknesses and benefit from each other’s strengths.

Serbia has vast cultivatable land and is rich in water resources, very niche in the agriculture sector. Whereas its population is limited to only 7 million approximately. While Pakistan is 250 million population and a strong workforce in the agriculture sector. Both nations can positively collaborate and cooperate in the Agriculture sector.

The Republic of Serbia is in the process of Industrialization, especially in the automotive sector, whereas, Pakistan has a strong base for industrialization and is rich in the technical and skilled workforce. Pakistan has established a rich supply chain for industrialization and Serbia can benefit from Pakistan’s strength.

Science, Technology, Research, Innovation, and Higher Education is the important area where both can benefit from collaboration and cooperation. Pakistan has world-ranked Universities, recognized globally with English as a medium of study, and can meet the demand of Serbian youth. Whereas Serbia has the edge in the IT sector, Pakistani youth can be beneficiaries of Serbian facilities.

However, to achieve the real benefits from each other’s strengths, there is a need to do a lot of homework. There is a dire need to promote people-to-people contact and mutual visit at all levels. Scholars, intellectuals, academia, and media can play a vital role in bringing both nations closer.

Governments in both countries may take appropriate policy measures to strengthen the relations like relaxing visa regimes, removing tax barriers, and introducing attractive policies to each other’s nationals in various fields of life.

To promote trade, Free Trade Agreement (FTA) can be signed among them and formulate a trade policy benefitting each other. Similarly, investment mechanisms need to be devised to attract investment from each other country.

Media has a long-lasting impact and collaboration between two nations in Media will greatly help to build a positive narrative of both countries and simultaneously need to counter negativism in the ugly media in some countries over-engaged in distorting our image.

There is a strong will to enhance our bilateral relationship between the two nations, and whenever there is a will, there is a way. I am optimistic that bilateral relations will grow exponentially in the days to come.

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The Economist: “Europe looks like… a sucker”

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© European Union 2019 – EP

Don’t be fooled by the rush of good news from Europe in the past few weeks. A brutal economic squeeze will pose a test of Europe’s resilience in 2023 and beyond, – predicts “The Economist”.

There is a growing fear that the recasting of the global energy system, American economic populism and geopolitical rifts threaten the long-run competitiveness of the European Union and non-members, including Britain.

Energy prices are down from the summer and a run of good weather means that gas storage is nearly full. But the energy crisis still poses dangers.

Gas prices are six times higher than their long-run average. On November 22nd Russia threatened to throttle the last operational pipeline to Europe. Europe’s gas storage will need to be refilled once again in 2023, this time without any piped Russian gas whatsoever.

The war is also creating financial vulnerabilities. Energy inflation is spilling over into the rest of Europe’s economy, creating an acute dilemma for the European Central Bank. It needs to raise interest rates to control prices. But if it goes too far it could destabilize the Eurozone’s weaker members, not least indebted Italy.

Too many of Europe’s industrial firms, especially German ones, have relied on abundant energy inputs from Russia. The prospect of severed relations with Russia, structurally higher costs and a decoupling of the West and China has meant a reckoning in many boardrooms.

That fear has been amplified by America’s economic nationalism which threatens to draw activity across the Atlantic in a whirlwind of subsidies and protectionism. President Joe Biden’s ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ involves $400 bn of handouts for energy, manufacturing and transport and includes make-in-America provisions.

In many ways the scheme resembles the industrial policies that China has pursued for decades. As the other two pillars of the world economy become more interventionist and protectionist, Europe, with its quaint insistence on upholding World Trade Organization rules on free trade, looks like a sucker.

Many bosses warn that the combination of expensive energy and American subsidies leaves Europe at risk of mass deindustrialization.

Compared with its pre-COVID GDP trajectory, Europe has done worse than any other economic bloc. Of the world’s 100 most valuable firms, only 14 are European.

America’s financial and military support for Ukraine vastly exceeds Europe’s, and America resents the EU’s failure to pay for its own security.

America is irritated by Europe’s economic torpor and its failure to defend itself; Europe is outraged by America’s economic populism.

…High-level relationship – where will it all lead to?

International Affairs

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More Europeans will perish from energy crisis than Ukraine war death toll

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More people will perish in Europe this winter because of unaffordable household energy costs than those who have died on the battlefield in the Ukraine war, according to research by the British weekly newspaper The Economist.

Last week, the United Nations said the official civilian death toll from the Ukraine war has risen to nearly 6,900, with civilian injuries topping 10,000.

Whilst the death of military forces in Ukraine has been difficult to verify, the number of soldiers thought to have died in Ukraine is estimated at 25,000-30,000 for each side.

The Economist modeled the effect of the unprecedented hike in gas and electricity bills this winter and concluded that the current cost of energy will likely lead to an extra 147,000 deaths if it is a typical winter.

Should Europe experience a particularly harsh winter, which is something likely when considering the growing effects of climate change, that number could rise to 185,000. That is a rise of 6.0%. It also reports that a harsh winter could cost a total of 335,000 extra lives.

Even in the rare case of a mild winter, that figure would still be high with tens of thousands of extra deaths than in previous years. If it is a mild winter, research by The Economic indicates the death toll would be 79,000.

The Economist’s statistical model included all 27 European Union member countries along with the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Norway.

It is anticipated that Governments across Western Europe would be alarmed and concerned by these shocking figures published by the study.

But it remains to be seen what measures these governments will take to prevent so many extra fatalities in their own countries because of the energy shortage.

The energy crisis itself began when Europe, which was heavily reliant on Russian gas, imposed heavy sanctions on Russian energy exports following Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Before the war, Russia supplied 40-50% of the EU’s natural-gas imports. One of Europe’s strongest economies, Germany for example, had become dependent on Moscow’s gas flows and had no Plan B.

The move clearly backfired on Western economies, with inflation reaching record levels not seen in decades, mainly as a result of the soaring energy prices. That has left pensioners and other poorer as well as middle-class income households facing a choice of putting food on the table this winter or heating their homes.

The study by The Economist says that despite European attempts to stockpile as much gas as possible to fill their storage facilities, many consumers are still being hurt by the rise in wholesale energy costs.

It adds that even as market prices for fuel have slightly declined from their peaks, the real average residential European gas and electricity costs are 144% and 78% above the figures for 2000-19.

As it is being hurt the most, Europe could take serious and concrete efforts to push both Kyiv and Moscow to the negotiating table and hold peace talks that would bring an end to the war.

That would ease a lot of problems facing the continent – and the world – from energy shortages to the global food supply chain disrupted by the war.

However, critics argue, this would backfire on many Western arms manufacturers who are making lucrative profits from their weapons shipments to the warzone.

There are many officials and other influential figures in the West, especially the U.S. congress (despite America not being included in a study by The Economist), who have links to arms manufacturers; which makes the possibility of peace somewhat unlikely.

While the United States has sent weapons to the tune of $40 billion dollars, European countries show no sign of opting for peace with the new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the latest to announce plans of maintaining or increasing military aid to Ukraine next year

The other course of action is for Western governments to ease the cost-of-living crisis by spending more on social welfare and hiking the tax rates for the rich.

This would save lives by allowing families to heat their homes but many Western governments are taking the opposite route, by claiming they need to cut spending in order to strengthen economic growth in the long run. 

As things stand, the new research by the Economist will add to the fears already facing families in Europe ahead of the winter season. The lower the temperatures will be in Western Europe, the more likely it will be that higher-than-usual death tolls are going to hit the continent. 

As The Economist notes, although heatwaves get more press coverage, cold temperatures are usually deadlier than hot ones. Between December and February, 21% more Europeans die per week than from June to August.

The report says that in the past, changes in energy prices had a minor effect on mortality rates in Europe. But this year’s hikes to household bills are remarkably large.

The Ukraine conflict has exposed other massive costs that have accompanied the violence. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that the world economy in 2023 will be US$2.8 trillion smaller than was estimated in December 2021, before the fighting erupted in February.

The British weekly newspaper, which built a statistical model to assess the effects of the sharp rise in energy prices, forecasts deaths based on weather, demography, influenza, energy efficiency, incomes, government spending, and electricity costs, which are closely correlated to prices for a wide variety of heating fuels.

It used data from 2000-19, (excluding 2020 and 2021 because of covid-19) and says the model was highly accurate, accounting for 90% of the variation in death rates.

High fuel prices can exacerbate the effect of low temperatures on deaths, by deterring people from using heat and raising their exposure to cold.

It says that with average weather, the study found a 10% rise in electricity prices is associated with a 0.6% increase in deaths, though this number is greater in cold weeks and smaller in mild ones.

In recent decades’ consumer energy prices have had only a modest impact on winter mortality, because energy prices have moved or swung back and forth in a regular rhythm.

In a typical European country, increasing fuel prices from their lowest level in 2000-19 reduce the temperature from the highest level in that period to the lowest which means colder weather increases the death rate by 12%.

The study cites the case of Italy, where electricity bills have surged to nearly 200% since 2020, extending the situation, which it said was a linear relationship that yields extremely high death estimates. It has been reported that the country will suffer the most extra deaths. The results show that Italy, which has an older population along with soaring higher electricity prices makes it the most vulnerable. 

Other countries such as Estonia and Finland are also expected to suffer from higher fatalities on a per-person basis. People in Britain and France will also be affected. The model for the effects of fatalities from high energy costs did not include Ukraine.

However, damage to the energy infrastructure in Ukraine as a result of the war, will also certainly have a dire humanitarian effect on Ukrainians as well.

Over the past weeks, many reports have emerged citing Europeans as saying they will be forced to switch the heating off because of the high fuel prices, essentially exacerbating the effect of cold temperatures on deaths by raising people’s exposure to low temperatures.

The most vulnerable people in Europe, the elderly and those living alone or on low pay to medium paychecks will pay the highest price: Death.

Tehran Times

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