The European Union has failed to lift its arms embargo on China prior to the conclusion of Luxembourg’s presidency of the EU. In January Luxembourg took on the role of EU president, which rotates between member states every six months, and was tasked with facilitating the lifting of the embargo by the end of June 2005. Failure to reach agreement amongst member states made it impossible to reach a decision on the arms embargo’s future prior to Britain taking on the EU presidency on 1 July.

Germany and France have been keenly pushing the EU to drop the embargo to open up for greater arms trade to China, but this has been opposed by other EU members like Holland and Sweden due to human rights concerns and the anti-secession law enacted by China against Taiwan earlier this year. Similarly, strong opposition to lifting the embargo has come from the United States and this has not escaped the British government, a strong ally of the US.

In outlining the UK’s priorities for the next six months of the EU presidency, British Prime Minister Tony Blair failed to mention the arms embargo and it is widely believed that the embargo will remain intact during the British and Finnish EU presidencies, but it remains to be seen if the issue will be raised again during Germany’s EU presidency starting July 2006. The German position depends on the result of German parliamentary elections later this year.

In the European Parliament, a resolution was tabled on 5 July on relations between the EU, China and Taiwan and security in the Far East, which stated that it “Strongly recommends to the Council and the Commission that the arms embargo remain intact until greater progress is made on human rights issues in China and on cross-Straits relations, as well as until the EU makes its code of conduct on arms sales legally binding;”. On a 5-day visit to Beijing, head of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, reiterated this position, telling journalists ‘”We need a consensus on this issue. It is important to have a better atmosphere in regard of the perception about human rights issues here in China…We in Europe understand that China is a very, very important partner. But at the same time, there are important concerns in many of our member states about the human rights situation”.