Sunday

21st Apr 2019

EU extends Russia sanctions, but formalities delayed

  • International monitors, the OSCE, report sounds of shelling and small arms fire every day in east Ukraine despite the Minsk 'ceasefire' (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

France, Sweden and the UK have delayed EU formalities on extending Russia sanctions but agreed to the decision in principle.

The three member states’ ambassadors placed a “parliamentary reserve” on the decision at a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (21 June), meaning they would consult national MPs prior to giving their full assent.

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“[EU states] agreed to prolong the restrictive measures in view of Russia’s actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine”, an EU official said.

The reserves meant that France, Sweden and the UK “agreed to the decision, but their parliaments need to confirm and the decision cannot be taken until all member states have lifted their reserve”, the official added.

The official said the procedure is “normal and usual” and that ambassadors would not have given their assent on Tuesday if they had not expected national MPs to wave through the measures.

“There’s an EU rule that you negotiate in ‘good faith’, so if you really think you have issues at home, then you don’t agree to it in Brussels”, the official said.

The official could "not remember any example” when a parliamentary reserve led to an EU decision being overturned.

French senators, in a non-binding resolution on 9 June, said by a whopping majority that the sanctions should be “gradually and partially” lifted.

MPs in the French lower house in a non-binding resolution

in April also called for them to be lifted. But this passed by just 55 votes to 44 out of the assembly’s 577 MPs because most of them belittled the initiative, put forward by pro-Russia MPs in the centre-right Les Republicans party, by not showing up to vote.

A French diplomat on Tuesday also downplayed the consultation process. “They [MPs] get the draft [EU] decision and have a look. It’s very common”, he said.

There is broad political support for Russia sanctions in Britain and Sweden.

Unwelcome effect

A British diplomat said the UK procedure involved sending a memo summarising the EU decision to two EU scrutiny committees in Westminster and awaiting their response.

The Swedish procedure is similar.

The formalities could have an unwelcome effect if London, Paris or Stockholm drag their heels, however.

The sanctions do not expire until 31 July, but the ambassadors’ decision must be ratified by EU states’ ministers to be legally binding.

The Dutch EU presidency had hoped to conclude the decision at an EU affairs ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Friday so that the matter did not interfere with the post-Brexit vote summit on 28 and 29 June.

That is now uncertain.

In terms of normal due process, the only other opportunity for EU states to ratify the sanctions would be a meeting of EU farm and fisheries ministers on 27 June.

They could also do it via “written procedure”, in which EU capitals notify the EU Council of their assent without sending a minister to Brussels.

Russia does not feature in draft EU summit conclusions being circulated in Brussels on Monday.

Debate

But France has said it wants EU leaders to hold a “debate” on the future of the EU’s Russia policy and of the Minsk ceasefire accord on east Ukraine.

If the summit saw Russia-friendly leaders, for instance, from Austria, Hungary or Italy, launch a political attack on EU sanctions before the roll-over had been concluded, the element of uncertainty would grow.

The British diplomat said London still hoped to wrap up things by Friday.

The diplomat said that a British government minister had the authority to quash the parliamentary reserve, for instance at Friday’s EU affairs meeting, if need be.

A Swedish diplomat said the Swedish parliament’s EU committee is to meet on Friday morning to conclude the issue.

Focus

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Europe is losing out to China on exports to Russia. EU sanctions are one likely reason, but they have had scant political impact because most of the world continues to do business as usual with Moscow.

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