European Union External Action

Arms Export Control

26/10/2020 - 12:50
Policy - Activity

Responsibility and transparency by both exporting and importing countries, as well as adherence to the highest regional and international standards

In the EU, arms exports have to be assessed against eight far-reaching risk assessment criteria relating notably to the risk of human rights and humanitarian law violations, the risk of diversion, the risk of internal or regional instability.

The EU promotes responsibility and transparency by both exporting and importing countries, as well as adherence to the highest regional and international standards, such as:

The EU Common Position on arms export controls lays down a notification and consultation mechanism for export licence denials, including a transparency procedure (publication of EU annual reports on arms exports). 

See: Annual Reports on Arms Exports

In September 2019, the Council adopted a Decision amending the Common Position. This Decision takes account of a number of developments at both European Union and international level that have resulted in new obligations and commitments for EU Member States since the adoption of the Common Position of 2008.  These developments include for example the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty in 2014.

A consolidated version of the EU Common Position can be found here.

In September 2019, The Council also adopted Conclusions on the review of the Common Position.

The Common Position contains 8 risk assessment criteria that all EU countries apply to their licensing decisions for exports of conventional weapons.

The EU Common Position has contributed significantly to the convergence of national arms export control policies.  It extends controls to brokeringtransit transactions and intangible transfers of technology.  Its principles and criteria have also been officially subscribed to by a number of countries outside the EU.

It requires EU governments to apply risk assessments and transparency measures to goods listed by the 'EU Common Military List'.

The User's Guide (revised in 2019) is intended to help Member States apply the EU Common Position.  It does not replace the Common Position in any way, but summarises agreed guidance for the interpretation of its criteria and implementation of its articles.  It is intended for use primarily by export licensing officials.

In January 2021, the Council adopted a decision establishing a common approach on the elements of end-user certificates in the context of the exports of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition.  The adoption of the Council Decision represents another important step towards further convergence in arms exports policies of EU Member States.  It also contributes to reducing the risk of arms diversion, creating a level playing field and increasing clarity for the defence industry and its clients.

In line with the Council Conclusions, the EU increased the transparency on arms export reporting by turning the EU’s annual report on arms export into a searchable online database on the website of the European External Action Service. The annual reports and the online database are based on the data submitted by EU Member States.

The introduction of the online database represents a substantial step in increasing the user-friendliness of the EU’s annual report on arms export, making it easy accessible to all stakeholders and to the general public.

The online database contains information on the value, destination and type of arms export licenses and actual exports from Member States. It will be updated once a year, after the Council has adopted the EU’s annual report with arms export data regarding the previous year.



Useful maps and charts that are easy to navigate allow users to refine their searches applying multiple filters, i.e. origin, region of destination, country of destination, common military list category, year, etc.  





Since 2008, the EU has funded arms export control outreach activities in its eastern and southern neighbourhoods. Activities relate to regulatory assistance, training of relevant officials, exchange of best practices and case-studies.


Council Decision on the promotion of effective arms export controls (Council Decision (CFSP) 2020/1464).


The EU supports the effective implementation and universalisation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), notably through Council Decision 2017/915/CFSP.

PDF iconMore information on EU's activities in support of the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). 


Common Position 2003/468/CFSP requires EU Member States to regulate brokering activities on their territory or carried out by their nationals, in particular by:

  • requiring arms brokers to apply for a licence
  • establishing an information-sharing system on brokering activities
  • laying down adequate penalties for illicit brokering.