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15th Aug 2022

EU figures show crisis-busting arms sales to Greece

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.

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  • Greek soldier - the country is buying billions of euros of arms from EU countries despite the crisis (Photo: Nikita Avvakumov)

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 and 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 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 Assad, who buys mostly from Russia).

The arms sales overlap with EU Arab Spring politics.

EU countries over the past year gave Sunni dictatorships plenty of leeway on repression while condemning human rights abuses in, for instance, Iran, or strategically less important countries in north Africa.

Arms for autocrats

Some EU diplomats are worried Algeria could see unrest in May elections, where Islamist political groups will challenge septuagenerian autocrat Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

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 equipment; €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) split in two when leaders in the oil-rich east claimed autonomy.

The figures also show how much wiggle-room there is in the EU arms ban on China, which goes back to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Despite the embargo, it granted almost €218 million of licences in 2010.

The lion's share came from France and the UK for aircarft and ground vehicle parts, electronic equipment, missiles and over €13 million of: "Chemical or biological toxic agents, 'riot control agents,' radioactive materials."

Clear risk

The EU figures are collected on the basis of a 2008 Code of Conduct, which says member states should not sell to places if 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 sloppiness.

In 2009, for instance, Italian firm Beretta sold €8 million of guns to Libya. But the shipment was incorrectly registered as being of Maltese origin and 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.

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EU arms trade booming despite crisis

Firms in the UK, France, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Spain and Europe's own European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company made around €75 billion from selling weapons in 2010.

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