The European Commission on Thursday called for a change in the rules on the import, export and transit of firearms for civilian use to clamp down on trafficking and keep better track of the number of such weapons in the bloc.
About 35 million illicit firearms are in the hands of civilians in the EU, according to estimates by the Commission, amounting to 56% of the estimated total of firearms. Around 630,000 of these firearms are listed as stolen or lost in the Schengen Information System.
"Firearms trafficking feeds organised crime within the EU and breeds political instability in the EU's neighbourhood. With the development of fast parcel delivery and of new technologies, trafficking of firearms is taking new forms to escape controls," European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said in a statement.
"The reform we are proposing will close down the loopholes in the existing rules which are often circumvented, leading to firearms being smuggled and diverted into the EU," he added.
Under the new rules, manufacturers, dealers, and users will no longer have to pay a fee to obtain an import or export authorisation for firearms for civilian use, their essential components, ammunition and alarm and signal weapons.
A new EU electronic licensing system for firearms manufacturers and dealers to apply for import and export authorisation will meanwhile be created to replace the mostly paper-based systems the 27 Eu countries each have.
The European Commission also plans for stricter technical standards for alarm and signal weapons — which only fire blank, tear gas, or irritant ammunition — to ensure they cannot be converted into lethal firearms and for an end-user certificate to be delivered for the more dangerous firearms to certify that the buyer is the final recipient of the goods and does not plan on transferring them to someone else. This should curb the risk of such weapons landing on the black market.
The import and export procedures for hunters, sport shooters and exhibitors will meanwhile be simplified, the Commission said.
Another proposal is for strict checks on refusals to grant import and export authorisations to be carried out with the information shared with other member states to prevent individuals from trying their luck in another country.
"Criminals are constantly changing how they smuggle deadly weapons into the European Union. We need to stay one step ahead. EU internal security to reduce the illegal use and trafficking of firearms must be built on good law enforcement cooperation, good intelligence, and transparent procedures," Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said.
"This proposal does that," she added, urging MEPs and EU member countries to swiftly adopt the new rules.
Asked about the risk of illicit weapons flowing into the EU from Ukraine, Johansson said that "this has not happened yet I must say but of course, we have to prepare for that."
"That's why we are developing an anti-trafficking firearms action plan together with the Ukrainians right now and that is also one reason why we have set up a secured hub in [Moldovan capital] Chisinau to also support Moldova borders and their police in the fight against the trafficking of illicit firearms."
"I trust the Ukrainian military, they are really using the weapons in the right way but we also know that war is a disaster for people but it's an opportunity for criminals and we have to be prepared for that," she added.