EU figures show crisis-busting arms sales to Greece

07.03.2012 13:43


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BRUSSELS - Official figures show that EU countries sold Greece over €1 billion of arms at the same time as negotiating its first bail-out back in 2010.
France was by far the biggest seller, with a €794 million aircraft deal, according to recently-released European Council data on arms licences granted by member states. It also sold €58 million of missiles and €19 million of electronics used for aircraft countermeasures and target acquisition.
Pro-austerity advocates the Netherlands and Germany together sold almost €90 million of mostly electronics and ground vehicles. Italy sold €52 million of rifles and aircraft parts, while Spain sold €33 million of military-grade chemicals.
Greece is currently trying to shave every possible centime off its budget, but it still remains one of the biggest arms spenders in the region due to a perceived threat from Turkey.
The then Greek deputy defence minister, Panos Beglitis, in 2010 told Reuters that fellow member states did not put pressure on Athens to buy the arms in order to get the bail-out. "This [large scale arms purchases] has always been the case with these countries. It is not because of the crisis, there is no link," he said.
But an aide to the then Greek leader, George Papandreou, who asked to remain anonymous, told the news agency: "No one is saying 'Buy our warships or we won't bail you out.' But the clear implication is that they will be more supportive if we do."
Looking to the Middle East, the 2010 figures tell a tale of EU countries arming their Sunni Muslim allies in the 'Cold War' against Shia Muslim enemies Iran and Syria.
EU countries granted €2.5 billion of licences for exports to Saudi Arabia, €1.5 billion for the United Arab Emirates and €1.2 billion for Oman. Sales to smaller Sunni-controlled regimes - Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and Yemen - added up to €1.1 billion.
They sold almost nothing to Iran and Syria (barring half-a-million-worth of Greek aircraft parts for Syria's President Bashar Assad, who buys mostly from Russia).
The arms sales overlap with the EU's political reaction to the Arab Spring. EU countries over the past year have given the Sunni dictatorships plenty of leeway on repression while diligently condemning human rights abuses in, for instance, Iran, or strategically less important countries in north Africa.
Algeria elections loom
Some EU diplomats are worried that Algeria could face unrest in May elections, where Islamist political groups will try to wrest power from septuagenerian autocrat President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. A previous confrontation between the two sides - in 1992 - prompted a civil war that cost 200,000 lives.
If Algeria becomes the next Libya or Syria, there will be no shortage of EU-made weapons on the ground.
Total arms licences in 2010 were €933 million, including €584 million of British and Italian aircraft; €94 million of Italian and French electronic countermeasure euipment; €44 million of ground vehicles from various suppliers; €40 million of French naval vessels and €24 million of Bulgarian ammunition.
EU licences for pre-Arab-Spring dictators in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia came to €531 million.
The weapons are still sloshing around in Libya, which on Tuesday (6 March) effectively split in two when leaders in the oil-rich east claimed semi-autonomy for the region formerly known as Cyrenaica.
In other areas, the EU in 2011 imposed an arms ban on Belarus - itself a major arms exporter to pariah states. But in 2010 they still sold it almost €1 million of mostly rifles and aircraft parts.
The figures also show how much wiggle-room there is in the EU's arms ban on China, which dates back to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Despite the embargo, it granted almost €218 million of licences in 2010.
China riot control
The lion's share came from France and the UK and included aircarft and ground vehicle parts, electronic equipment and missiles, as well as over €13 million of items labelled "Chemical or biological toxic agents, 'riot control agents,' radioactive materials."
The EU figures are collected on the basis of a 2008 Code of Conduct, which says member states should not sell to countries where there is "a 'clear risk' that the weapons will be used for internal repression" or "could provoke or prolong armed conflict."
The reporting system is known for its loopholes.
In 2009, for instance, Italian producer Beretta sold €8 million of guns to Libya. But the shipment was mistakenly registered as being of Maltese origin and as being worth €80 million, after a shipping firm, W.J. Parnis England, made a typo which went unnoticed for two years.
"If this is what is happening in the official and legal arms trade, I can only imagine what is happening in the illegal arms trade," Francesco Vignarca, the director of Italian arms control NGO, Rete Disarmo, told EUobserver at the time.