Parliamentary Oversight of Arms Exports

Parliament must assume its responsibilities all the more since for nearly 15 years various governments have been blocking multiple projects, such as those on oversight of intermediaries or violation of embargoes, that would strengthen scrutiny of arms transfers and bring French legislation into line with EU and UN demands. France lags far behind its European partners. In the last two years, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and the UK have suspended their sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia that are used in the war in Yemen – yet France has not.

To understand the reasons for this discrepancy, the first part of this report will investigate the parliamentary oversight systems of three European countries: the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. Germany and the UK are interesting studies, being arms exporters of a comparable size to France. Though we intend to describe how the institutions in these countries operate, we primarily want to focus on understanding the place of arms sales in civic and political debate, hence the benefit of choosing countries of similar size. The Netherlands, for its part, is frequently lauded as a “model” in this field; it was up to us to verify whether this is true.

Furthermore, do the arrangements in place really allow democracy to function? Or, looking in the other direction, are MPs sufficiently driven to guarantee sustained scrutiny? Does parliamentary oversight (and the associated political and social aspects) have a real impact on future export decisions? Have arms contracts been suspended? We felt it crucial to look at the benefits and limits of the models established. In the second part of this report, we set out our critical review of the Maire-Tabarot report and conclude with our specific recommendations.

Observatoire des armements

The Observatoire des armements is an independent centre of expertise founded in 1984. It was born out of civil society and aims to support civil-society work on defense and security issues in support of disarmament, with a view to promoting a policy of transparency and democratic control over military activities in France and Europe. The Observatoire des armements focuses on two main areas: monitoring arms transfers and the arms and security industry; and nuclear weapons and their consequences. It publishes studies and a newsletter (Damoclès) and engages in advocacy work with policymakers. The Observatoire des armements is a key interlocutor and a resource centre for the media, civil society organisations and researchers, both in France and abroad.