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23.12.

2006 EN Official Journal of the European Union C 318/83

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the
European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directive 91/477/EEC on control of the
acquisition and possession of weapons
COM(2006) 93 final — 2006/0031 (COD)

(2006/C 318/14)

On 7 July 2006 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under
Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.
The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the
Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 26 July 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Pegado Liz.
At its 429th plenary session of 13 and 14 September 2006 (meeting of 13 September), the European
Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 186 votes to seven, with 12 abstentions.

1. Gist of the Commission proposal which aim to make the 1991 directive more coherent, effective
and rapid with regard to the mechanisms and objectives set out
therein.
1.1 This proposal seeks to further the process of updating
Directive 91/477/EEC of 18 June 1991 (1) which, following the
1984 Fontainebleau European Council, for the first time looked
at the need for ‘effective rules enabling controls to be carried out 1.5 Specifically, the proposal:
within Member States on the acquisition and possession of firearms
and on their transfer to another Member State’, in the light of the
criteria set out in the Palermo Protocol supplementing the UN a) updates the framework surrounding the concept of illicit
Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, which the manufacturing, using this as a basis for defining the different
Commission was authorised to sign on behalf of the European types of offences of illicit manufacturing, falsification and
Community (2). trafficking, for which there should be penalties proportionate
to the harm they cause society;
1.2 The proposal thus seeks to entrust the legal enforcement
of the aforementioned Supplementing Protocol to an interna- b) recommends instrumental measures for monitoring and
tional convention, which the Commission signed on behalf of tracing weapons, the best examples of which are marking
the Union. In other words, by following this approach, the them, and also rules on disabling/deactivating them;
Union is undertaking to tackle the issue at hand itself, thus
making these measures directly binding on Member States, i.e.
there is no need for them to opt to sign up to the protocol c) sets out rules and measures for greater control of certain
referred to above or to any Community recommendations on activities related to the arms trade.
the matter, since this is already covered by Title V of the
Treaty (3).

1.3 The following needs have been identified as overall objec-


tives: 2. The political and social framework for the measure in
the current international setting
— to harmonise European legislation on the matter;

— to combat the illegal market in weapons designed for civilian


use; and 2.1 Transnational crime is highly organised and is a by-
product of today's high-risk societies, which are based on the
— to prevent legal weapons finding their way onto the illegal globalisation of knowledge, communication and information.
market.

1.4 Consequently, the proposal currently under examination


2.1.1 Transnational crime also constitutes one of the most
proposes mechanisms which are binding on Member States and
serious threats to the integrity of States and more generally, to
the very democratic framework that hallmarks them. It could
(1) Council Directive 91/477/EEC of 18 July 1991 on control of the acqui- even, in extreme cases, take the shape of alternative and illegiti-
sition and possession of weapons (OJ L 256 of 13.9.1991, p. 51). EESC
Opinion: Through what was then called the Section for Social, Family, mate forms of controlling the Community.
Educational and Cultural Affairs and with Mr Van Dam as rapporteur,
the EESC delivered its opinion on 17.12.1987 (OJ C 35, 8.2.1988, p.5),
which was highly critical of the scope of the excessively limited
measures adopted for controlling the movement of weapons from one
Member State to another. 2.2 Within this form of crime and as a result of the multi-
(2) Council Decision of 16 October 2001 (OJ L 280, 24.10.2001). dimensional and highly varied nature of the risk, various types
(3) In other words, as part of common external and security policy. of criminal activity overlap and feed into one another.
C 318/84 EN Official Journal of the European Union 23.12.2006

Terrorism and highly organised crime are closely linked to one understanding of the importance, in this context, of trafficking
another, and these are both closely linked to the trafficking of in firearms.
weapons and ammunition (4).

2.9 Subsequently, and leading up to the Vienna Process, the


2.3 Estimates suggest that there are currently hundreds of supplementary protocol to the aforementioned Convention on
millions of light weapons in circulation in the world, respon- the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their
sible for hundreds of thousands of deaths per year; of these parts, components and ammunition was born, open to all inter-
fatalities, more than one half will occur in internal conflicts in ested countries as of 1 September 2001; it has however experi-
various Asian and African countries. In financial terms, this is enced some delays in being signed and ratified by the EU
clearly a very lucrative business, but from the humanitarian Member States.
point of view, it is devastating.

2.4 The Union's Member States must provide an appropriate


and coherent response to this transnational situation. To this
end, legislative solutions, both preventive and punitive, must be 3. General comments
harmonised and must lead to integrated, common policies.

3.1 Legal base


2.5 The subject of this proposal combines market rules with
important issues of intra-Community security, a predominant
value in any democratic society and one from which the Union 3.1.1 Article 95 TEC provides sufficient authority for incor-
is not and cannot be exempt. Security is, in fact, a prerequisite porating this directive into the Community legal order, since
for the exercise of any freedom. this is a measure relating to the operation of the internal market
and is covered by the procedure set out in Article 251.

2.6 What is at issue here is quite simply drawing up require-


ments for bringing about a European area of freedom, security 3.1.2 It is appropriate to use a directive in this case, espe-
and justice for all citizens, a subject closely related to the third cially taking into account the principle of the hierarchy of laws,
pillar of European integration. In addition to posing a threat to and particularly given the type of legislation to be amended.
the integrity of the various Member States, trafficking in
weapons is also a significant risk factor for the EU's internal
affairs.
3.1.3 The Committee therefore supports the Commission
initiative and endorses its legal basis, which it deems to be in
2.7 The Community had already felt the need to tackle this keeping with the stated aims (9).
threat within its own borders, by adopting Council Directive
91/477/EEC of 18 June 1991. Subsequently, the EU Joint
Action of 17 December 1998 (5) prompted the different
Member States to introduce measures aimed at improving and 3.2 Gist of the proposal
stepping up weapons and ammunition control, an approach
echoed in various annual reports that have since been
published (6). 3.2.1 In adopting the Supplementary Protocol to the United
Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, the
Commission is correctly basing its approach on the fundamental
2.8 More recently, the United Nations too has focused its principles enshrined in this protocol concerning the need to
attention on the matter, and has even supported a number of prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit manufacturing of and
measures in this field. Consequently, it set up a special trafficking in firearms, their parts, components and ammuni-
committee (7) with the task of drawing up an international tion, because of the threat that these activities pose to the
convention against transnational organised crime, which was welfare of the public at large and to their right to live in peace.
adopted two years later in Palermo (8). This rapidly led to an

(4) The issue of the traceability of ammunition, whilst not falling within
the specific scope of the Commission proposal, has already been 3.2.2 The Committee welcomes this concern and fully
partially addressed, in conjunction with the placing on the market and supports the Commission initiative.
supervision of explosives for civil uses, in Directive 93/15/EEC of
5 April 1993 (OJ L 121, 15.05.1993, p.20, EESC Opinion — OJ C
313, 30.11.1992, p.13), amended by Regulation (EC) No 1882/2003
of 29 September 2003 (OJ L 284, 31.10.2003, p.1, EESC Opinion — 3.2.3 The Committee would point out that this issue has
OJ C 241, 07.10.2002, p.128), in Directive 2004/57/EC of 23 April been considered on several occasions by the European Parlia-
2004 (OJ L 127, 29.04.2004, p.73), in Commission Decision ment and has been the subject of a number of written questions
2004/388/EC of 15 April 2004 (OJ L 120, 24.04.2004, p.43) and in to the Commission (10).
the programme set out in the Commission Communication of 15 July
2005, on measures to ensure greater security in explosives, detonators,
bomb-making equipment and fire-arms. (9) A detailed discussion is warranted, however, of the grounds on which
5
( ) Later included in the EU's June 1997 programme on the illicit traf- the Commission considers itself entitled to regulate matters of criminal
ficking of conventional weapons. law in its proposed amendment to Article 16 of Directive 91/477/EEC.
(6) For the years 2001 to 2003 see: OJ C 216, of 1.8.2001, p.1, OJ C 330, (10) Including in particular written questions: P-4193/97 by Maria Berger,
of 31.12.2002, p.1; and OJ C 312, of 22.12.2003, p.1. MEP (OJ C 223/70, 17.7.1998); E-1135/01 by Christopher Huhne,
(7) Under UN General Assembly Resolution 53/111, of 9 December 1998. MEP (OJ C 350 E/78, 11.12.2001); and E-1359/02 by Gerhard
(8) Under Resolution 55.25 of 15 November 2000. Schmid, MEP (OJ C 229 E/209, 26.9.2002.
23.12.2006 EN Official Journal of the European Union C 318/85

3.2.4 Furthermore, in its external relations, the Council has directive on those it is designed to affect will basically depend
taken a particular interest in the need to assist third countries in on the legislative process, specifically criminal law, on how
drawing up appropriate legislation and regulations on the economic operators adjust to the new rules for entering the
ownership, possession, use, sale and transfer of weapons and arms profession and on how registers of trading activity are
ammunition, as a means of ensuring peace and security and organised. 12 to 18 months are deemed to be sufficient for this
contributing to sustainable development (11). task.
3.2.5 There is clearly, however, also a close link between this
4.3 With regard to classifying the illicit activities in question,
issue and concerns about the fight against terrorism (12), money
existing comparative law in the Member States (15) could
laundering, the identification, tracing, freezing, seizing and
provide useful support for the totus comunitatae, and the relevant
confiscation of instrumentalities and the proceeds from
system of penalties could be discussed as soon as possible at the
crime (13), the supervision of explosives for civilian uses (14) and,
European Council.
in general, all measures combating gangsterism and organised
crime.
4.4 It might also be worth looking at the need to specify
3.2.6 In this regard, the Committee is not merely pleased that the concept of ‘illicit trafficking’ contained in the proposal
with the Commission initiative; it welcomes it wholeheartedly, should be viewed against the background of the fight against
and hopes that the European Parliament and the Council will transnational organised crime, in such a way as to limit the
take it fully on board. application of criminal sanctions to situations that fall exclu-
sively within the specific scope of the United Nations conven-
4. Specific comments tion referred to above.

4.1 Article 1 of this proposal amends the following articles 4.5 As regards the provision set out in No 3(c) of Annex I to
of Directive 91/477/EEC: the directive, on defining antique weapons or reproductions of
— 1, with the addition of two new points; such, the EESC urges the Commission to coordinate this at
Community level.
— 4, with new wording;
— 16, with new wording; 4.6 To conclude, it might also be useful to refer to the use of
— Annex I with new wording from point a) and a new point. weapons in hunting, sporting, or collectors' activities, because
the primacy of security interests must also prevail in these areas,
4.1.1 All of the proposed amendments are supported by this due to the nature — or rather the lethal nature — of the items
Committee, insofar as they appropriately incorporate the provi- in question. In fact, assessing the purpose of owning a weapon
sions of the protocol on which they are based. is simply a matter of the will to impart that information; here
4.2 Article 2 sets out the arrangements that will be binding there is margin for misuses and abuses, which must be
on Member States if the proposed directive is adopted, but prevented as far as possible. Against this background, it should
leaves the transitional period open, despite its immediate entry be recommended, along the broad lines set out in this proposal,
into force (see Article 3). that Member States be bound to require weapon owners to
declare ownership, hold a permit or comply with another
4.2.1 Where this aspect is concerned, it is not thought that administrative procedure authorising the use and carrying of a
there is any need for a lengthy delay in transposing the directive weapon, which involves the national security organisations
once it has been adopted. In fact, the impact of the responsible for monitoring and control.

Brussels, 13 September 2006.

The President
of the European Economic and Social Committee
Anne-Marie SIGMUND

(11) See Council Decision of 15 November 1999 on Cambodia, OJ L 294,


16.11.1999, p.5.
(12) Framework Decision on the fight against terrorism (COM(2001) 521
final, 19.9.2001) and EESC Opinion CESE 1171/2006.
(13) Framework Decision of 6 July 2001, OJ L 182, 5.7.2001.
(14) Directive 93/15/EEC of 5 April 1993, OJ L 121, 15.5.93, amended by (15) In Portugal, for example, the recent Law no 5/2006, of 23 February,
Regulation (EC) 1882/2003 of 29.9.2003, OJ L 284, 31.10.2003. already incorporates all the measures now being proposed.