The European Commission has adopted a new package of measures aiming to tighten firearms control across the EU. Presented on 18th November, the proposal was already foreseen in the European Security Agenda adopted in April but it was significantly accelerated in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.
While there is very little official data available on the types of firearms circulating in the EU, the illegal use and trafficking of weapons or indeed criminal activities involving civilian firearms, events such as those in Paris have demonstrated that gaps in the current legislation on firearms and shortcomings at national level are having a significantly negative impact on the level of security in the EU.
With the aim of rapidly rectifying the situation and preventing further attacks, the package of measures therefore includes a revision of the Firearms Directive, an Implementing Regulation on common minimum standards for the deactivation of firearms and an action plan against the illegal trafficking of weapons and explosives.
Internal Market and Industry Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska and Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who worked together on the proposal, stated:
“The adoption of the firearms package today is proof of the Commission’s determination to address the new reality we are confronted with. We need to remove regulatory divergences across the EU by imposing stricter, harmonised EU standards for firearms and ensuring efficient exchange of information between Member States.”
The measures put forward cover a wide range of issues. The revision of the Firearms Directive will include more stringent rules to ban certain semi-automatic firearms and on the online acquisition of firearms, common rules on the marking of firearms aiming to improve traceability, better information exchanges between Member States including interconnecting national weapon registers, common criteria concerning alarm weapons as well as stricter conditions for the circulation of deactivated firearms and for collectors. Demonstrating the widespread sense of urgency felt at EU level, the Commission has requested that the European Parliament and the Council move quickly on this file and has invited the Member States to start taking the necessary steps for the future firearms legislation to come into effect by July 2016.
Meanwhile the College of Commissioners has already adopted the Implementing Regulation on the deactivation of firearms, which will enter into force three months after its publication in the EU’s Official Journal. The Regulation sets out common, strict criteria on the way Member States must deactivate weapons to render them inoperable. Moreover, the possession of firearms considered to be especially dangerous – even if deactivated – will no longer be allowed.
The final element of the package is an action plan against the illegal trafficking of weapons and explosives. While arms trafficking is for the main part a national competence, the Commission has nevertheless declared that the cross-border nature of such activities necessitates joint action, in particular stronger police and intelligence service coordination
and improved import checks. The action plan will therefore cover the purchase of weapons on the black market, the control of illegal weapons and explosives in the internal market and the fight against organised crime.
The inclusion of the European Security Agenda in President Juncker’s political guidelines was seen by some as evidence of the increasingly widely-held view that the EU needs to reinforce its security policy in the face of evergrowing threats. Moreover, the Commission’s rapid action on this particular package can be seen as a clear sign of the shock felt across the EU following recent events and appears indicative of an impetus that has been less present in previous times. It appears that the package may therefore have come at the right time to ensure the rapid adoption which is often so difficult to achieve.