Bernd Lange sees breakthrough for human rights in EU dual-use export

December 12, 2020


On 11 December 2020 Bernd Lange, Vice-chair of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, wrote in New Europe the following piece about how after 6 years there has come an European agreement on stricter rules for the export of dual-use goods, which can be used for both civilian and military ends.


All good things are worth waiting for. After long six years negotiators from the European Parliament, the Commission and member states finally agreed on stricter rules for the export of dual-use goods, which can be used for both civilian and military ends. Parliament’s perseverance and assertiveness against a blockade by some of the European Union member states has paid off in the sense that as of now respect for human rights will become an export standard.

Up until now, export restrictions applied to aerospace items, navigation instruments or trucks. From now on, these rules will also apply to EU produced cyber-surveillance technologies, which demonstrably have been abused by authoritarian regimes to spy on opposition movements; for instance, during the Arab Spring in 2011.

This is a breakthrough for human rights in trade by overcoming years of various EU governments blocking the inclusion of cyber-surveillance technology in the export control rules for dual-use goods. Without a doubt: Technological advances, new security challenges and their demonstrated risks to the protection of human rights required more decisive action and harmonised rules for EU export controls.

Thanks to the stamina of the Parliament, it will now be much more difficult for authoritarian regimes to abuse EU produced cybersecurity tools such as biometric software or Big Data searches to spy on human rights defenders and opposition activists. Our message is clear: economic interests must not take precedence over human rights. Exporters have to shoulder greater responsibility and apply due diligence to ensure their products are not employed to violate human rights. We have also managed to increase transparency by insisting on listing exports in greater detail in the annual export control reports, which will make it much harder to hide suspicious items.

In a nutshell, we are setting up an EU-wide regime to control cyber-surveillance items that are not listed as dual-use items in international regimes, in the interest of protecting human rights and political freedoms. We strengthened member states’ public reporting obligations on export controls, so far patchy, to make the cyber-surveillance sector, in particular, more transparent. We increased the importance of human rights as licensing criterion and we agreed on rules to swiftly include emerging technologies in the regulation.

This agreement on dual-use items, together with the rules on conflict minerals and the soon to be adopted rules on corporate due diligence, is establishing a new gold standard for human rights in EU trade policy.

I want the European Union to lead globally on rules and values-based trade. These policies show that we can manage globalisation to protect people and the planet. This must be the blueprint for future rule-based trade policy.

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