Trade, transport and export of arms and sensitive material


Export controls on war material

France’s regime

Export controls on French arms are based on a rigorous legislative and regulatory framework, which takes into account the national imperatives of sovereignty and security, as well as France’s international and European arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation commitments.

The French control regime of war materials is based on the overall principle of prohibition, except in the case of authorization of the State and under its control, which means subjecting the entire sector of defence and its flows to state control. Applications for export licences are subject to interministerial evaluation within the framework of the Interministerial Commission for Scrutiny of Exports of Defence-related Equipment. This Commission is chaired by the General Secretary for Defence and National Security and is made up of representatives from the ministries responsible for foreign affairs, defence and the economy.

France conducts strict, transparent and responsible control of its exports of war materials.

France is party to all international instruments organizing cooperation on arms export issues. The control conducted by France is one of the most comprehensive in the world. France bases its export decisions on criteria determined within the international treaties, conventions, instruments and forums to which it belongs, including Council Decision (CSFP) 2019/1560 of 16 September 2019 amending Common Position 2008/944/CSFP defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment and the Arms Trade Treaty. France implements the international embargoes established by the UN and the European Union.

All information on French exports is available online and updated annually in a report submitted to the Parliament and France’s report submitted to the Arms Trade Treaty Secretariat. This information concerns the strategic context, regulatory framework and statistical items regarding French exports.

Transfers of defence products within the EU

Directive 2009/43 of 6 May 2009 simplifying terms and conditions of transfers of defence-related products within the Community, initiated by the European Commission, was adopted in its first reading by the European Parliament, under the French Presidency, and endorsed by the Council on 24 April 2009. It aims to simplify the rules and procedures applicable to the transfer of defence-related products within the EU, including by increasing the accountability of businesses as regards compliance with provisions banning re-exports to third countries and on their end use.

The Member States can, at any time, suspend the implementation of this regime if national security or public order and security imperatives require it, provided that reasons are given for that decision.

The material covered by this directive are given in the Common Military List of the European Union, updated by the Council in February 2009 (OJEU of 19 March 2009) in the framework of the abovementioned Common Position 2008/944/CFSP of 8 December 2008 (replacing the Code of Conduct).

France transposed that directive into national law in the Act of 22 June 2011.

France and the EU Council Common Position

This cooperation is based on Council Decision (CFSP) 2019/1560 of 16 September 2019 amending Common Position 2008/944/CFSP defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment.

The Common Position stipulates eight criteria that Member States are bound to take into account during the examination of arms export licence applications:

1/ Respect by the recipient country for international commitments;
2/ Respect for human rights;
3/ Internal situation in the country of final destination;
4/ Preservation of regional peace, security and stability;
5/ National security of the Member States and of the friendly and allied countries;
6/ Behaviour of the buyer country with regard to the international community, as regards in particular its attitude to terrorism;
7/ Existence of a risk that the military technology or equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions;
8/ Compatibility of the exports of the military technology or equipment with the technical and economic capacity of the recipient country.

The Common Position also provides for a mechanism to circulate details of denials and for consultation where a Member State envisages the authorization of an essentially identical transaction to one denied by another Member State within the last three years. This mechanism is an important instrument for convergence.
By asking the Member States to mutually inform one another of their export licence denials and to explain their reasoning, the Common Position aims to promote the convergence of national export decisions. Each criterion is, moreover, the subject of discussions aimed at producing best practices to be implemented by national control authorities.

The implementation of the Common Position, work on the interpretation of the criteria and the deepening of cooperation on arms export controls are discussed within the Council Working Group on Conventional Arms Exports (COARM), the CFSP group dealing with these subjects.

The existence of the Common Position is gradually creating common conditions for European exporters, which all our businesses are legitimately calling for. Above and beyond this progress, the impact on other global arms exporters of rules applicable to all European arms industry players, and the political weight of the Common Position criteria are clearly helping to gradually isolate the least virtuous exporters.

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Updated: December 2019