EU interior ministers reached a deal Friday to tighten restrictions on the ownership and trade of firearms, in an effort to clamp down on terrorism following deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels.
The proposed revision to existing EU firearms legislation was first put forward by the European Commission in the days after the November terrorist attacks in Paris, when attackers armed with Kalashnikov rifles and explosive vests killed 130 people.
“We want to tighten our rules and leave as little space as possible for exceptions that criminals can exploit,” said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve welcomed the agreement as a step to improving citizens’ security. But others argued that it still contains too many loopholes.
The deal would increase controls on online sales of firearms, require the registration of alarm pistols and blank firing guns that can be converted into lethal weapons, and lay out tighter rules on the labeling of guns and gun parts, among other things.
The deal now needs to be negotiated with the European Parliament before it can be put into law.
“The result of the more stringent rules … is that the risk of legal firearms finding their way to the illegal market is reduced,” said Dutch Security Minister Ard van der Steur, whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.
But not everyone was happy with the compromise deal, which was approved by a majority of member states.
Luxembourg opposed it for being too lax and failing in its objective, arguing that restrictions on the most dangerous of firearms were not strong enough and that too many differences remained between member states.
But Poland and the Czech Republic said the measures went too far, according to EU diplomatic sources.
Van Der Steur pointed to the difficulty of bridging various national approaches based on traditions and “practices that have grown over the years.”
“To be frank with you, I would have been happier if the council (of EU governments) was more ambitious in its approach, especially on semi-automatic weapons and (gun) collectors,” Avramopoulos told ministers during their discussion, without going into detail.
He expressed hope that EU lawmakers would insist on stronger safeguards to “ensure our security objectives.” But the text risks being further watered down by the parliament, one EU source said on condition of anonymity.
The clampdown on firearms is part of EU efforts to curb criminal and terrorist activities, including a recent decision to store airline passenger data and measures to cut off terrorist financing.
The ministers also approved a roadmap on Friday aimed at improving the exchange of information between police and intelligence services across Europe. A reluctance to share criminal data has made it easier in the past for suspects to move across the EU unhindered.
“Information-sharing is our most effective weapon against the threat of terrorism, and we have to get better at using it,” Avramopoulos said. “The vulnerability of one member state is the vulnerability of the entire union,” he warned.