Saturday

27th Feb 2021

Berlin repeats support for EU human rights sanctions

  • European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Berlin is "ready" to move ahead with new EU human rights sanctions, but internal bickering could delay them into next year.

"We are ready to take the work forward", a German EU presidency spokesman told EUobserver on Thursday (24 September), referring to plans to target human rights abusers around the world with visa-bans and asset-freezes.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The European Commission and the EU foreign service have been drafting the legal documents for over six months.

And if they do not finalise them in the next few weeks, Germany, a vocal supporter of the sanctions, will run out of time to shepherd them into force before its presidency ends, as it had expected to do.

Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president, also promised a "European Magnitsky Act" in a recent speech to MEPs, naming the sanctions after Sergei Magnitsky, a late Russian anti-corruption activist.

And the foreign service told this website: "All involved are working hard to ensure that the sanctions regime is up and running as soon as possible".

"This will be a new instrument in our toolbox, which will give further coherence to our external policy", a spokeswoman for EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell said.

But behind the scenes, EU turf wars risked further delay, sources warned.

For its part, von der Leyen's commission has been fighting for control of the visa-ban part of the regime with the EU Council, which normally enforces travel bans, one EU diplomat said.

And Borrell's service has been fighting the commission for control of the asset-freeze part, another EU source said.

The European Parliament has no powers on foreign policy.

But MEPs have also tried to shape the sanctions before they go forward.

A draft of the asset-freeze regulation, seen by EUobserver, catalogued 12 criteria for designations.

These included extrajudicial killings and torture, for instance, but not corruption.

The draft also named the sanctions "restrictive measures against serious human rights violations", instead of a "European Magnitsky Act".

But those were two "deficiencies" for a cross-party group of MEPs, including dozens of deputies from Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden.

"Individuals who contributed physically, financially, or through acts of systemic corruption to human rights abuses should be sanctioned," they said in a letter to Borrell last week.

Disturbing

"Magnitsky was tortured and killed for standing up to [Russian president] Vladimir Putin's corrupt regime and it would be a terrible injustice to his sacrifice if the EU did not incorporate his name in the legislation," they also said.

Targeted sanctions would be ideal for two egregious recent cases - the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny - if they were ready, diplomats previously told this website.

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy is also struggling for "coherence" on other fronts, after Cyprus vetoed a blacklist of Belarusian officials despite regime brutality and election rigging.

And for the MEPs, "in light of the Navalny poisoning and the current situation in Belarus, the lack of progress in adopting this [human rights] law [was] particularly disturbing".

In Saudi Arabia, contacting the EU is a crime

Women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is facing trial. One of the allegations is contacting the EU delegation. Despite pressure from Brussels, Saudi Arabia remains unimpressed.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders restate defence 'autonomy' plan
  2. Rights group exposes Ethiopia massacre
  3. US carried out airstrikes against Iran-backed militia in Syria
  4. Malta closes investigation into journalist murder
  5. Dutch parliament calls China treatment of Uighurs genocide
  6. Spain fined €15m by ECJ over data failures
  7. Belarus: Anti-government protester jailed for 10 years
  8. German charged with spying for Russia in Bundestag

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. Armenia 'coup' shows waning of EU star in South Caucasus
  2. 'Difficult weeks' ahead, as variants spread across EU
  3. EU top court advised to strike down Hungary's asylum policy
  4. Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency
  5. Is EU poised to solve child labour in 'green' batteries?
  6. The trap of spreading ideas while attacking them
  7. Who are the EU's new Russian deplorables?
  8. Afghan asylum family beaten in Greece, set adrift at sea

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us