The Global Judges

EU Prepares Global Sanctions Regime

BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Own report) - The EU is preparing a new sanctions regime and wants to impose coercive measures on human rights violators - both presumed and real - throughout the world. It will be equivalent to two US sanctions laws Washington uses to penalize undesirable persons from Russia and other countries. Those listed under the US law can no longer travel to the United States and any assets they may have in the USA would be frozen. During a conflict with Turkey, the Trump administration enforced one of those laws, the "Global Magnitsky Act", to impose sanctions on Turkey's justice and interior ministers. The EU foreign ministers have now instructed the European External Action Service to prepare a corresponding law for the EU, the 'European Magnitsky Act". 'This will be a tangible step reaffirming the EU's global lead on human rights," the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell declared. An EU diplomat was quoted saying that the aim is to show that "we have muscles." It is therefore an instrument of power draped in a humanitarian disguise.

The "Global Magnitsky Act"

The new sanctions law, the EU intends to introduce as quickly as possible, is modelled along the lines of two US laws, the "Magnitsky Act", which came into force in 2012 and its expansion, the "Global Magnitsky Act" adopted in 2016. The Magnitsky Act, signed into law by US President Barack Obama on December 14, 2012, targets Russian citizens accused of human rights abuses, refusing them entry into the United States and freezing their assets on US territory. The Global Magnitsky Act, signed by Obama on December 23, 2016, extends the punitive measures provided for in the Magnitsky Act to persons from anywhere in the world. As a rule, the sanctions affect citizens from countries, whose governments are in a conflict with the USA. In the meantime, however, Washington has started to target even ministers from allied countries. For example, on August 1, 2018, sanctions were imposed on Turkey's Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu under the Global Magnitsky Act because of the conflict over Turkey’s imprisonment of the US Evangelist pastor Andrew Brunson.

The "European Magnitsky Act"

For some time now, a number of EU member states have been pushing for a "European Magnitsky Act." The EU already has been gradually extending its sanctions regime against recalcitrant countries, with over 40 different restrictive measures currently in place against individuals in 34 countries.[1] National versions of the US American Magnitsky Act have already been adopted not only in Canada, but also in Great Britain and in Baltic states. In October, the eight members of the Nordic Council [2] announced that they would adopt corresponding laws, "in the event that Magnitsky legislation is not implemented in the EU." Already on March 14, 2019, the EU Parliament adopted a resolution demanding the introduction of a "European Magnitsky Act," with 447 MEPs voting in favour and only 70 against.[3] The name is the only thing still uncertain. Some would like to name the law, which will authorize coercive measures in the future, after the Russian auditor Sergej Magnitsky, who died in 2009, while in Russian custody. The Netherlands, which have been vigorously pushing for the new measures from the very beginning, oppose the name. After all, not only citizens from Russia should be targeted, according to The Hague, but citizens also from Saudi Arabia and from countries on the African and Asian continents.[4]

EU Internal Disciplinary Measures

However the ultimate passage of a European Magnitsky Act is not yet certain. Several EU member nations have expressed doubts. For example, Hungary has been worried that the EU’s regime might target Russian and Chinese officials with whom Budapest has close ties.[5] In fact, in enforcing the sanctions, which will be valid also for Budapest, Brussels would have little problem in thwarting any Hungarian independent foreign policy, therefore, that law would also serve as a disciplinary measure within the EU. Italy, Cyprus and Greece were among other countries wary about the plans. Because a European Magnitsky Act must be passed unanimously, the reluctance of even a small number of member states has great significance.

"A Global EU Sanctions Regime"

The EU's foreign ministers decided Monday to now launch the preparatory work on concrete steps to formulate a European Magnitsky Act. Accordingly, the European External Action Services is commissioned to initiate the necessary steps and to formulate an equivalent of the so-called Magnitsky Act of the United States. This is a "tangible step reaffirming the European Union's global lead on human rights," declared the new EU's new High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell.[6] "A global EU human rights sanctions regime" will be established, announced Stef Blok, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands. An unnamed diplomat was quoted saying that the sanctions regime would serve to show that "we have muscles."[7] Already in his invitation for Monday's meeting of the EU’s foreign ministers, where the decision to prepare a European Magnitsky Act was taken, Borell explained, if the EU does not want to become the playing field for other great powers, it must itself become a "geostrategic player." In his letter, Borrell had literally quoted the demand the new President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen had made: "We must speak the language of power."[8]

"Europe's Vocation"

Even before she began her term of office at the helm of the EU Commission, von der Leyen had already begun to set new accents in Brussels. In her "political guidelines" for the commission, she noted back in July that "Europe" must become a "global leader;" it would have to "strengthen its unique brand of responsible global leadership."[9] Therefore, "bold steps toward a true European Defense Union" are now needed. November 8, von der Leyen, who explicitly sees herself heading a "geopolitical" commission, declared "soft power alone is now not enough." The EU needs "its own muscle in security policy." "Europe must also learn the language of power." "The world needs our leadership more than ever," the current president of the EU Commission alleged on November 27, on the occasion of the presentation of her Commission: "Europeans can be the shapers of a better global order. This is Europe’s vocation."[10] Throughout the history of Berlin's politics an abundance of these claims, have been seen - and their consequences as well.


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[1] Alexandra Brzozowski: EU ministers break ground on European "Magnitsky Act". 10.12.2019.

[2] Dem Nordischen Rat gehören Dänemark, Finnland, Schweden, Norwegen, Island, die Faröer-Inseln, Grönland und Åland an.

[3], [4] Alexandra Brzozowski: EU ministers break ground on European "Magnitsky Act". 10.12.2019.

[5] Laurence Norman: EU Moves Closer to Creating U.S.-Style Magnitsky Act. 09.12.2019.

[6], [7] Jacopo Barigazzi: EU to prepare Magnitsky-style human rights sanctions regime. 09.12.2019.

[8] Thomas Gutschker: Die Sprache der Macht. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 10.12.2019. See also November Drumming.

[9] Ursula von der Leyen: A union that strives for more: My agenda for Europe. Political guidelines for the next European Commission 2019-2024. 16.07.2019. See also Lust for Power.

[10] Ursula von der Leyen: Europa-Rede. Berlin, 8. November 2019. See also November Drumming.

[11] Rede der gewählten Kommissionspräsidentin von der Leyen im Europäischen Parlament anlässlich der Debatte zur Vorstellung des Kollegiums der Kommissionsmitglieder und seines Programms. 27.11.2019.