I remember very well the last time we met to discuss firearms trafficking. It was in Berlin, the very last day of January 2020.
A different time, a different world almost. Before the pandemic.
After that, everything changed.
What hasn’t changed is the threat posed by illegal firearms.
There are around 35 million illegal firearms in the European Union.
Many smuggled across our borders.
Criminals and terrorists use illegal guns to kill people and undermine our societies.
Last November, a terrorist shot and killed four people in Vienna with an automatic rifle.
Last July gangsters shot and killed a 12 year old girl in Sweden. An innocent girl, caught in the crossfire of criminal violence.
In July hitmen shot in cold blood and killed Dutch journalist Peter R De Vries.
In the Western Balkans, guns left over from past wars kill people, kill women.
When a woman is killed, it is usually the husband, boyfriend or partner who did it. in South East Europe in 60 per cent of cases
And nearly 45 percent of women killed by relatives were killed with a gun.
During the pandemic, domestic violence got worse. And so did the killing of women. Last year in South East Europe, 23 women were killed with a gun by relatives. A 30 per cent increase.
In short: women are killed by someone close to them, with something close to them. If there were fewer guns close at hand, fewer women would die.
So what also hasn’t changed is the urgency to fight the gun smuggling threat.
That’s why I am welcoming you here today.
In cooperation with my colleagues Josep Borrell and Olivér Várhelyi and with Aleš Hojs for the Slovenian Presidency.
I welcome our Member States, our Western Balkan partners and other partners outside the EU, EU agencies and international organisations.
The pandemic has not prevented excellent results in the fight against guns.
In the last one and a half years since we met in Berlin, the EU and Western Balkans booked successes in the joint fight against traffickers.
Last November, in “operation Bosphorus” – a joint action against firearms trafficking – EU and Western Balkan partners confiscated nearly 1800 guns.
In Joint Action days in September last year in the Western Balkans, 8000 law enforcement officers checked hundreds of thousands of people. Leading to 24 arrests and confiscation of guns, drugs and other weapons.
Progress in our joint efforts since 2018 has been constant. Since the adoption of the Western Balkan roadmap on illegal possession, misuse and trafficking of guns.
Over the last few years, the EU and Western Balkans have built a very close cooperation against firearms trafficking within the EMPACT platform against criminal threats.
And I am very happy about that.
As far as the fight against firearms trafficking goes, Western Balkan partners are already very well integrated in the EU security framework.
In fact, cooperation with and within the Western Balkans on firearms is a best practice for other areas of cooperation against crime.
But despite these successes we need to do more.
Just consider this fact:
In the Western Balkans, authorities seized 100 guns at the borders.
But they captured 4700 weapons in police raids and law enforcement action inland.
Nearly 50 times more!
It shows very many weapons are still being smuggled across the border undetected.
It shows we still need to greatly improve our joint fight against firearms trafficking.
We need to do that as a Union. The EU must to strengthen law enforcement, intelligence gathering and improve international cooperation.
And the EU can only do that with you, our closest neighbours, our Western Balkans partners.
Last summer I launched the new 2020-2025 Action Plan against Firearms Trafficking, to step up the fight.
My action plan has four priorities.
First: Preventing legal weapons from entering the illegal market.
Many people use guns legally: for sport, hunting or security. These weapons must never end up in criminal hands.
This is why I am updating rules on the import and export of firearms. This is also why Member States must implement the Firearms Directive. And why candidate Member States need to bring their own laws in line with EU law – already now.
Here too, Western Balkans jurisdictions are making impressive progress.
Second: we must improve our intelligence picture. Our threat analysis.
To fight trafficking, authorities need to know when guns are lost. When they are stolen. When imitation guns are sold that can be easily converted into deadly weapons.
Member States should add this data to the Schengen information system, so police can run checks when they capture a weapon. Member States and our partners in South East Europe need to systematically record lost and stolen firearms.
To identify trends and risks, law enforcement needs comprehensive statistics.
There are now no comparative statistics on captured firearms.Neither on the national not EU level. The Commission will take steps to systematically collect and harmonise data on captured firearms.
Third: In the EU and Westen Balkans, we must build on our successes and further improve our law enforcement cooperation against gun smuggling.
It’s time to complete the setup of National Firearms Focal Points across Europe. Fully staffed and trained Firearms Focal Points will help to gather, analyse and share information on gun smuggling.
Both in the EU and Western Balkans we must further improve cooperation through EMPACT and Europol. Improve cooperation among law enforcement authorities – customs, police and border guards – and cooperation with prosecutors and forensic specialists.
And we must crack down on new forms of trafficking. Like trafficking through parcel delivery. Where criminals send guns or gun parts through the mail. That means improving cooperation between law enforcement and parcel and postal operators. And possibly using artificial intelligence to find gun parts in small parcels – for example when x-raying masses of small packages. The Commission will investigate possibilities.
Finally, the EU must improve its international cooperation. Especially with the Middle East and North Africa.
And of course with the Western Balkans. I have to thank you. Our cooperation over the years inspired and shaped this action plan. In very concrete terms. I have integrated the 2018 road map, into the action plan.
This includes the very specific actions, related to the Western Balkans. Such as:
- Standardising procedures.
- Conducting information campaigns.
- modernising the criminal legal framework to ensure prosecutions and convictions
- Establishing inspection systems
- And life cycle management: monitoring the life of a gun from construction to destruction and everything in between: sales, modification, de-activation and so on.
And I have made sure to include the Key Performance Indicators. Which you pioneered and developed as part of the roadmap. Because that’s the only way we can keep track of progress.
Progress which I said is substantial. For example.
Tirana adopted an amended law on firearms last year. Bringing the legal framework on firearms closer to the EU. This was the first amended firearms law adopted in the region based on the latest version of the EU Firearms Directive.
Belgrade reported the highest number of firearms voluntary surrendered and deactivated. And piloted new guidelines, knowledge and practices in police response to prevent usefirearms in domestic violence;
Sarajevo this year adopted an evidence-based Small Arms and Light Weapons Strategy and Action Plan. Which integrates the gender perspective.
Podgorica. modernised capacities for automatic ballistics examinations. Bringing them to the same level as the rest of the region.
Skopje shows leading capabilities in the region in detection and investigation of converted weapons.
Pristina, your Firearms Focal Point is a true best practice. The first and most advanced in the region. It is fully automated and supports firearms investigations with consistent and timely analysis.
Congratulatons for that
As a region together, your work is an example to the world.
The Caribbean has now also adopted a roadmap against firearms trafficking based on your example.
I hope to hear more success stories from you today.
And I hope to hear which further steps you think all of us must take to get illegal guns off our streets and out of criminal hands.
Let me just end with the observation: normally we ask candidate Member States to adopt our body of EU laws, rights and obligations.
But you are shaping it before you join.
And I think that’s unique in EU history and something to be very proud of.