France must act within EU law on warships sale to Russia

by Saferworld | Saferworld - UK
Friday, 21 November 2014 10:49 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

France remains legally obliged to assess the controversial sale and delivery of warships to Russia against the EU’s Common Position on arms exports, says Saferworld on the launch of a new GRIP-Saferworld briefing, ‘An ill wind: How the sale of Mistral warships to Russia is undermining EU arms transfer controls’.

In 2011 France agreed a contract to supply Russia with two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, with an option for two more to follow. Since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea earlier this year, the French government has been under growing pressure to cancel the controversial deal but no decision has yet been taken.

Saferworld’s arms transfers expert Roy Isbister said:  “French President François Hollande is saying ‘I will take my decision … based on two criteria—the interests of France and the appreciation I have of the situation’, but in fact France is legally obliged to base its decision on EU Common Position 2008/944/CFSP, a legal instrument that sets out the rules Member States must follow when deciding whether to export arms. These rules include an obligation to refuse to transfer items where there is a clear risk that they might be used for internal repression or undermine regional peace, security and stability, and to take into account the risk that the transfer would undermine the national security of friendly and allied countries.”

Delivery of the first of the ships, the Vladivostok, might now be overdue, but so far the deal is still very much alive, with Russian sailors continuing to train on the ship in the French port of Saint-Nazaire.”

The EU’s Common Position was designed to ensure responsibility and to promote convergence among Member States over arms transfers. When they ignore the Common Position and so fail to meet their legal obligations, especially in high profile, high-value and/or strategically significant cases, Member States undermine the basic credibility of the EU system, and attempts to promote a law-based system of arms transfer controls internationally.

Roy Isbister said: “France and other EU member states need to recommit publicly to apply the Common Position to all export licensing decisions, regardless of the nature or scale of the proposed transfer, and also to ensure that debates about arms exports and individual licensing decisions are cast in terms that reference and reflect their legal obligations.  If governments won’t do this at their own initiative, parliaments, the broader electorate and the media must hold them to account to meet their obligations.”