BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers have agreed to suspend export licenses for military technology Egypt. The suspension also includes civilian equipment such as tear gas and batons.
“Member states also agreed to suspend export licenses to Egypt of any equipment which might be used for internal repression and to reassess export licenses of equipment covered by Common Position 2008/944/CFSP and review their security assistance with Egypt,” according to the conclusions of the EU foreign ministers, issued Wednesday.
Common Position 2008/944/CFSP defines common rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment, but does not provide an exhaustive list of equipment.
“Each member state must look at what kind of equipment is being delivered and what is happening on the ground,” said Maja Kocijancic, a spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.
Germany has taken more specific steps by suspending all export licenses to Egypt indefinitely and reviewing export licenses granted over the past two years. In addition, customs services have been asked not to allow the export of any defense goods to Egypt, even if they have a valid export license.
A spokesman from the German Foreign Office described this as “going further than the EU consensus.” He said the EU’s conclusions were binding but that the language was “not strong.” For example, the phrase “reassess export licenses of equipment” leaves EU member states with “room for interpretation.”
Germany’s rationale is to help put an end to the violence in Egypt. “That is the first thing that needs to happen,” the spokesman said.
“In the first half of 2013, German arms exports to Egypt were valued at around €13 million (US $17 million), mainly for equipment for telecoms and for the Navy,” an EU diplomat said.
“Important point: this is not an arms embargo. Member states will take a national-level decision on the suspension of export licenses for materiel that they consider to fall within the definition of materiel for internal repression,” the diplomat said. “Export licenses for arms falling within the Common Position of 2008 will be reassessed by the member states. This is a member state decision because it is their competence, not that of the Council.
Europe as a whole is a minor weapons supplier to Egypt compared to traditional Middle East suppliers US and Russia.
Data provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows that last year, air defense systems and armored vehicles dominated defense deliveries to the Egyptians.
Britain, one of Europe’s biggest arms exporters alongside France and Germany, managed defense exports to Egypt of only around £18 million (US $28 million) last year, covering items such as body armor, components for combat vehicles and infrared thermal imaging sensors.
So far this year there have been no British defense exports to Egypt and, with the present crisis, it is unlikely any further sales will take place for the foreseeable future.
The British government revoked five defense equipment export licenses in July on the grounds the equipment could be used for internal repression. A spokeswomen for the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, the part of the British government responsible for export licensing controls, said the department would reconsider the issue following the latest decision in Brussels.
“In the light of the recent EU decision we will be looking again at all extant licenses for Egypt and will be revoking as necessary if they are judged to now exceed the threshold for refusal under the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria,” she said.
Andrew Chuter in London contributed to this report.