Brussels, 22 March 2013
Questions and Answers: the UN firearms protocol and the EU
What is the UN protocol on firearms?
The UN Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Illegal Trafficking in Firearms and Ammunition (UNFP) is the first global instrument in the fight against transnational organised crime and trafficking in firearms. It sets out a multilateral framework and a variety of important minimum standards for all participating States.
The Protocol promotes cooperation among States Parties in order to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition.
What has been done at EU level?
The existing EU legislative framework on firearms largely derives from the UN Firearms Protocol (UNFP) which was negotiated and signed by the Commission in 2002 on behalf of the EU.
The Protocol is an international instrument of "mixed" competence between the EU and its Member States and the Commission has been aiming to complete the process of transposition into EU legislation of all its provisions, essentially through:
Directive 2008/51/EC, which integrates the appropriate provisions required by the Firearms Protocol as regards intra-Community transfers of weapons. The Directive establishes rules on controls by the Member States on the acquisition and possession of firearms and their transfer to another Member State.
The directive establishes 4 categories of firearms, by order of level of danger. Whilst it is prohibited to acquire and possess Category A firearms (explosive arms, automatic weapons…), for Category B weapons (ex: semi-automatic) an authorization is necessary and for Category C and D a declaration suffices.
The Regulation 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. It lays down procedural rules for export, and import - as well as for transit of firearms, their parts and components and ammunition.
Exports of firearms are subject to export authorisations, containing the necessary information to trace them, including the country of origin, the country of export, the final recipient and a description of the quantity of the firearms and related items.
Member States have the obligation to verify that the importing third country has issued an import authorisation. In the case of transit of weapons and related items through third countries, each transit country must give notice in writing that it has 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.
What is the status of ratification of the Protocol?
The UNFP entered into force on 3 July 2005. To date, 18 EU Member States have signed it and 16 Member States are contracting parties, which includes 12 Member States that have ratified (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Portugal, Sweden and Finland) and four Member States that have acceded to it (Spain, Latvia, Netherlands and Romania).
The Commission signed the UNFP on behalf of the EU in 2002. Now the Commission is in a position to take the final step by launching the ratification procedure for the EU.
This will have an effect for those Member States which have not yet ratified this Protocol which will become legally binding for them.
What is the scale of the problem?
Most illicit trafficking originates in lawful activity, as firearms which are legally registered, held and traded get diverted into criminal markets or to unauthorised individuals.
It is difficult to assess precisely the volume of illegal trafficking, although according to one estimate the illegal firearms trade generates between €125 million to €236 million per year globally, which represents between 10 to 20% of the total trade in legal firearms 1.
Such figures only cover portable firearms, and do not account for trade in heavy firearms, ammunitions and parts and components. Moreover, illicit firearms trade is often closely intertwined with other serious crimes such as drug trafficking, human trafficking and corruption.
In the EU alone, more than 5 000 murders were committed with firearms (around 20% of all murders) last year according to the UNODC. No EU country is unaffected by firearms violence.