22nd Mar 2018

MEPs ponder parliament-level Russia sanctions

  • If it goes ahead, it would mark the boldest ever attempt by MEPs to conduct EU foreign policy (Photo:

It is early days, they have no majority and it has never been done before, but MEPs in the Liberal group are pondering the creation of a European-Parliament-level travel ban on Russian officials.

Group leader and former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt floated the idea in a statement on Thursday (2 May).

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"I fully believe that the European Union should follow the US Congress and Senate in adopting a sanctions list. If the European Council fails to act in this regard, then the European Parliament should establish its own list based on the US Congress visa ban list," he said.

Verhofstadt was referring to a US ban on 18 Russian officials said to be involved in the murder of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.

The 37-year-old accountant died in suspicious circumstances in prison in 2009 after exposing corruption by high-level officials in the interior ministry.

The US Congress forced a reluctant State Department to put his alleged killers on a blacklist by threatening to block a US-Russia trade treaty if US diplomats did not act.

Under EU rules, the European Parliament has no powers on sanctions.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) can propose them and EU countries decide by unanimity whether or not to go ahead.

But a Liberal group contact said one option is the US model - threatening to block other legislation where MEPs do have jurisdiction unless EU diplomats act.

He said another option is "moral authority" - confronting EU countries to see if they are willing to ignore the EU assembly by letting the Magnitsky suspects travel anyway.

If the list happens, it would mark a bold attempt by MEPs to conduct EU foreign relations.

The parliament has already passed three resolutions urging EU-level action on Magnitsky to no avail.

But at the same time, MEPs are showing ever more willingness to assert their authority.

In 2010, they knocked down a major EU-US treaty on exchange of bank data - the Swift agreement. Last year, they killed an international pact on intellectual property - the Acta treaty.

Verhofstadt's remarks came after Irish MPs in Dublin on Wednesday (1 May) dropped a resolution calling for EU-level Magnitsky sanctions.

They did it when Russia threatened to ban Irish families from adopting Russian children.

The Irish MP who led efforts to quash the text - Bernard Durkan from the ruling Fine Gael party - said it had nothing to do with the Russian threat.

He told EUobserver he did it because the original draft was "intemperate and undiplomatic."

The final Irish resolution called instead for "a full and final report into the circumstances of the case."

The EEAS shares Durkan's point of view.

"The EU continues to call for a proper and thorough investigation … [EU] member states have agreed to this approach and this message is conveyed at all levels of our relationship with the Russian federation," its spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, said.

But Russia has already closed its investigation.

It said its officials did nothing wrong. Instead, it is accusing Magnitsky - in a posthumous trial - of tax fraud.

For his part, Bill Browder, Magnitsky's former employer, believes the EEAS should have spoken out against Russia's "blackmail" of Ireland.

"The value of the European Union is to stand together in these times," he said.

For Verhofstadt, the Russian adoption threat is proof that sanctions are the right approach.

"The pressure exerted recently by Russian authorities on EU legislators is evidence that sanctions would hit their target. How far is Russia willing to go and how far is the EU willing to be pushed on this issue?" he said.

Commission rejects ombudsman criticism over Barroso case

The European Commission repeated that it followed the rules when its former head joined Goldman Sachs - and suggested it will not follow the EU Ombudsman's demand to refer the case back to the ethics committee.

News in Brief

  1. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says
  2. Italy's centre-right set to share top posts with 5-star movement
  3. Brussels condemns tear gas in Kosovo parliament
  4. Finland pays billionaire €400,000 in EU farm subsidies
  5. 44 leaders sign up for Africa free trade area deal
  6. British 'blue' passports to be made in EU
  7. EU to have 'immediate' trade talks with Trump
  8. Separatist activist renounces Catalonia leadership candidacy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. EU summit takes hard look at Russia
  2. Germany casts doubt on Austrian intelligence sharing
  3. EU leaders set for 'stormy debate' on digital tax at summit
  4. EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery
  5. Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU
  6. Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair
  7. Behind the scenes at Monday's EU talks on Russia
  8. US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections