Czech government to publish regular annual report on arms exports

Historically, the former Czechoslovakia was a world leader in the production and export of armaments. Although the weapons industry has declined here since 1989, the Czech Republic is still a significant arms exporter. Now, as EU accession arrives, the country will be expected to adhere to the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, which aims to ensure the ethical regulation of the arms trade within the European Union.

Among other things, the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, which was adopted in 1998, prohibits member states from granting an export licence for selling weapons to countries where internal oppression exists or where the situation is highly volatile. Export licences also cannot be granted if there is a risk that the weapons sold will then be re-exported to an undesirable recipient. In addition, the code stipulates that EU countries have to inform other member states of any denials of export licences to help ensure that there is a unified approach among Union members as to whom they export arms to.

The Czech Republic committed itself to implementing the code when it was first adopted six years ago, even though it was not then a member of the EU. Now, as full membership becomes a reality, the Czech government is preparing to implement all the code's stipulations. This includes the mandatory publication of an annual report on all arms exports conducted in the Czech Republic.

Jan Winkler, the Czech Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs explains the benefits of such a measure:

"I very much believe that this annual report will help us in two ways. Firstly, it will really serve as a demonstration of transparency. Secondly, it will also help us in our communication with the media because at the moment we have to explain or speak about each issue separately. Now, I think it will make our life easier when we can refer to an annual report and say: 'Look all the information is there'. That's why we are investing a lot of effort and preparation into this."

Although the Czech arms industry has come under fire in the past for some rather murky weapons deals, many NGOs such as Transparency International have welcomed the government's move. The foreign ministry has also consulted with a working group of NGOs on the implementation of the EU Code of Conduct. Mr Winkler notes that there is actually a lot of common ground between the government and the NGO sector on this specific subject.

"We are in the same boat as the NGOs in regard to this particular issue. From the very beginning we have tried - especially the foreign ministry - to demonstrate that it has the same interests and shares the same concerns because we have no intention of risking the reputation of the country by not being transparent enough or hiding facts."

Mr Winkler also maintains that most of the major arms producers here have no problems with the new measures. Nevertheless, he did admit that greater levels of transparency would hit some elements in the Czech weapons industry:

"Surprisingly for me and perhaps also for our Western colleagues, there are a few hundred companies who have a licence for this type of trade [in the Czech Republic]. In Germany, there are around eight or ten altogether. I'm afraid that some of these smaller business entities will suffer as a result of our intention to make the whole issue more transparent. [These entities] very often change their names, and they change their identification numbers. I'm afraid that sometimes they create a company just for one particular deal and then disappear again. This is something we have to cope with and probably eliminate."