Germany eyes arms export changes after backlash

BERLIN, June 3 Tue Jun 3, 2014 2:03pm EDT

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BERLIN, June 3 (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet will agree on Wednesday to make the approval process for politically-sensitive arms exports more transparent, coalition sources said, following a domestic backlash against rising German sales to problem regions.

The Federal Security Council, a government committee that meets in secret and includes the chancellor and cabinet members, has responsibility for approving exports of military equipment to areas of the world that are particularly delicate.

But until now the government was only obliged to report on sales once a year in its annual arms report. Under the planned changes, the Bundestag lower house of parliament will have to be informed of such approvals within days, the sources said.

Germany was the third largest arms exporter in the world after the United States and Russia from 2008 to 2012.

As sales totals have grown and a larger number of arms been sent outside the European Union and NATO, to potentially unstable regions, they have attracted more scrutiny in Germany, a country still sensitive about its Nazi past and the role of its arms makers in fuelling 19th and 20th century wars.

Last month, data was released showing German exports of small arms and light weapons (SALW) rose 43 percent to a record 135.1 million euros last year, driven by sharp increases to Middle East states like Saudi Arabia.

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, whose Social Democrats (SPD) are in coalition with Merkel's conservatives, has vowed a much more cautious approach to licensing arms exports, unnerving Germany's defence industry.

Tom Enders, the head of Airbus group, told Reuters in May that he was worried about Germany's increasingly restrictive arms export policy, saying it could lead to job cuts in Germany beyond those that the company has already planned. (Reporting by Gernot Heller; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Noah Barkin)

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