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Dual-use trade controls

Dual-use items are goods, software and technology that can be used for both civilian and military applications. The EU controls the export, transit, brokering and technical assistance of dual-use items so that it can contribute to international peace and security and prevent the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

The export controls take into account the EU and its Member States' international obligations, including:

  • UN Security Council Resolution 1540;
  • the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
  • the Chemical Weapons Convention, and;
  • the Biological Weapons Convention.

EU export controls reflect commitments agreed upon in key multilateral export control regimes such as the Australia Group, the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime.

They contribute to the EU's Global Strategy  and the EU Strategy against the Proliferation of WMDs .

The EU export control system

Regulation (EC) No 2021/821 governs the EU's export control regime, which includes:

  • common export control rules, including a common set of assessment criteria and common types of authorisations (individual, global and general authorisations);
  • a common EU list of dual-use items;
  • common provisions for end-use controls on non-listed items which could be used e.g. in connection with a WMD programme or for human rights violations;
  • controls on brokering and technical assistance relating to dual-use items and their transit through the EU;
  • specific control measures and compliance to be introduced by exporters, such as record-keeping and registers, and;
  • provisions setting up a network of  competent authorities supporting the exchange of information and the consistent implementation and enforcement of controls throughout the EU.

In certain cases, EU Member States may introduce additional controls on non-listed dual-use items because of public security or human rights considerations.

In specific cases, additional EU restrictive measures (’sanctions’) may apply to dual-use exports. 

Dual-use items may be traded freely within the EU, except for some particularly sensitive items, whose transfer within the EU remains subject to prior authorisation (see Annex IV of the Regulation). The regulation contributes to the goals of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) with regard to trade in nuclear material and to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The regulation is directly applicable throughout the EU. EU countries nevertheless need to take national measures to implement some of its provisions, e.g. enforcement and penalties.

Dual-use export authorisations

There are four types of export authorisations in place in the EU export control regime:

EU General Export Authorisations (EUGEAs):

EU General Export Authorisations (EUGEAs) allow exports of dual-use items to certain destinations under certain conditions (see Annex II of the Regulation). Regulation (EU) 2021/821 provides for the following EUGEAs:

  • exports to Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, United Kingdom and the United States of America
  • export of certain dual-use items to certain destinations
  • export after repair/replacement
  • temporary export for exhibition or fair
  • telecommunications
  • chemicals
  • intra-group technology transfers
  • encryption

National General Export Authorisations (NGEAs):

National General Export Authorisations (NGEAs) may be issued by EU Member States if they are consistent with existing EUGEAs and do not refer to items listed in Annex IIg of the Regulation.

Global licences:

Global licences can be granted by competent authorities to one exporter and may cover multiple items to multiple countries of destination or end users.

Individual licenses:

Individual licenses can be granted by competent authorities to one exporter and cover exports of one or more dual-use items to one end-user or consignee in a third country.

Review of the EU export control regime

Export controls need to be regularly updated to adjust to evolving security risks and threats, rapid developments in science and technology, and changes in world trade.

Following a 2014 communication that set out options to review the EU's export controls, the Commission adopted a proposal to modernise the EU export control system in September 2016. On 20 May 2021, the European Parliament and the Council adopted Regulation (EU) No 2021/821. The new Export Control Regulation upgrades and strengthens the EU's export control toolbox to respond effectively to evolving security risks and emerging technologies, and will allow the EU to effectively protect its interests and values.

The Commission regularly holds public consultations, and has a constant dialogue with industry, academia and civil society, in an effort to strike the right balance between security and trade.