By Richard Lough
STRASBOURG (Reuters) - Tougher checks on European Union arms exports are needed and sanctions should be imposed on those countries that flout the bloc's rules, the European Parliament said on Wednesday.
EU lawmakers said European arms were stoking the conflict in Yemen, where a Saudi Arabia-led coalition is battling Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Arms sales to Saudi Arabia by EU states undermined the European arms control effort, they said.
"In Yemen, European weapons are fundamentally responsible for the war taking place," said German EU lawmaker Sabine Losing, who is leading efforts to hold EU governments to account.
The European Parliament's call to strengthen checks is non-binding but it the second time in less than a month that EU lawmakers have passed a resolution urging limits on arms sales following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The EU is the second largest arms supplier in the world -- exporting more than a quarter of all global arms -- after the United States, according to the EU's annual report on weapons exports.
That has pitted its values of peace and support for human rights against business interests.
The European Union's so-called Common Position on arms exports lists eight criteria governments must apply when taking a decision on an arms export license. Sales to Saudi Arabia violated six out of the eight, lawmakers said.
"The Common Position on arms exports must be implemented effectively. That includes, among others, a sanctions mechanism," Losing said.
French President Emmanuel Macron's government has come under fire from rights groups and opposition lawmakers over sales of French arms to Saudi Arabia.
Paris has sought to increase its diplomatic weight in the Middle East through the sale of naval vessels, tanks, artillery and munitions to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that the government adhered to strict rules that "stop us selling weapons that might impact civilians."
(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Angus MacSwan)