Monday

27th Jun 2022

Opinion

The EU as pawn in a nasty game

  • Unilateral economic sanctions may begin to lose their punch in the near future (Photo: Jens Schott Knudsen)

It is probably premature to write about the recent application to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on behalf of Russian government-owned oil company Rosneft, long-time Putin ally, Arkady Rotenberg and others, challenging the EU’s freezing of their funds in response to Russia’s alleged role in recent events in Ukraine.

Although their applications to the Court were filed on 9 October, they have yet to be published on the EU official website. To date international media coverage has been limited.

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

But given the significance of recent ECJ decisions in similar cases with respect to a new emphasis on fundamental rights and a return to the rule of law – long in decline after 9/11 - combined with the toll that sanctions against Russia have taken on the economies of EU member state, this is indeed worth watching.

Some commentators view the Russian actions as merely symbolic and unlikely to have any effect. Others, like Matthew Turner in EUobserver, are outraged that the EU would value human rights over its purported ‘security’.

Whatever result ensues, it is at least conceivable that a pro-Russian outcome will enable the EU to pull back, without loss of face, from sanctions essentially foisted upon it, like the similarly Russia-excluding TTIP, by US lobbies, to its significant detriment.

If the success of recent legal challenges brought before the ECJ in similar cases is any indication, unilateral economic sanctions may begin to lose their punch in the near future.

Reversing the trend

When Saudi financier, Yasin al-Kadi, first challenged the freezing of his funds under an EU Regulation enacted pursuant to a UN list after 9/11, the Court of First Instance found that UN resolutions trumped the right to have access to evidence supporting his placement on the UN list and to the right mount a legal defense.

This was overturned by the ECJ, based on EU human rights principles accepted by the EU prior to the inclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty.

In October 2014, the General Court annulled measures placing the Tamil Tigers on the EU list of terrorist organisations on the basis that maintenance on the list relating to frozen funds had been based on unreliable grounds that did not derive from decisions of ‘competent authorities’.

Just weeks earlier, Ahmed Mohmamed Qadhaf Al Dam, Muammar Gaddafi’s cousin and former head of Libya’s elite security force, was cleared due to insufficient evidence.

Arguably, the General Court is attempting to temper this trend with its most recent decision on the subject, upholding restrictive measures against dual national (French/Syrian) Adib Mayaleh for ‘providing economic and financial support to the Syrian regime through his functions as the Governor of the Central Bank of Syria’.

The Court found that the Council “was entitled to use Mayaleh’s professional duties as the sole ground for adopting restrictive measures against him”. While it would be unwise to speculate as to how the European Court of Justice might rule on appeal in this case, on its face, to find the Governor of a central bank subject to sanctions for ‘providing economic and financial support’ to an unpopular regime through his professional functions seems to be stretching the rule of law a bit thin.

The EU has suffered considerably from its various sanctions against Russians, just as it will suffer considerably from the TransAtlantic Trade and Partnership Agreement should that ever be ratified.

Both sanctions and the Agreement are the result of US corporate lobbying of the Commission, and it is American corporations alone who will benefit from both.

It is hoped that in rejecting these sanctions, the European Court will begin a reversal of this trend and strike a blow in favour of democracy and European sovereignty.

Virginia Brown Keyder is an instructor in EU law at Sabanci and Bogazici Universities, Istanbul, visiting professor in international law at Binghamton University, New York and a former attorney at law (New York Bar).

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Has the EU lost the ability to enact sanctions?

With Western leaders increasingly unwilling to use military power, sanctions and asset freezes have become essential instruments in the policymakers’ toolkit - but human rights need to be upheld.

Russia sanctions and the EU: What went wrong?

Without a diplomatic solution, the sanctions against Russia will have an adverse impact on its economy, but could also push Europe to a triple-dip recession.

How to enhance EU cybersecurity

The Hungarian hacking allowed Russian intelligence to read 'over the shoulder' of an EU member state for an extended period of time. The difficulty for the EU is that it's not one nation, but a combination of 27 cybersecurity policies.

Competing options for EU enlargement

We now have French president Emmanuel Macron's "European Political Community", European Council president Charles Michel's "European Geopolitical Community", and former Italian PM Enrico Letta's "European Confederation" — among others.

Sturgeon's 2023 'referendum' gamble for Scotland

The independence campaign launch featured a new Scottish government report, comparing the UK's economic and social record with those of other European states — and arguing, unsurprisingly, that Scotland should be independent as a result.

Column

China's support for Russia challenges Europe's Peace Order

China's soft support to Russia is deeply troubling for Europe. Here is the EU's biggest trading partner signalling that it is on the side of Russia, its aggression, and its challenge to the post-war international order.

Sturgeon's 2023 'referendum' gamble for Scotland

The independence campaign launch featured a new Scottish government report, comparing the UK's economic and social record with those of other European states — and arguing, unsurprisingly, that Scotland should be independent as a result.

News in Brief

  1. Possible terror attack halts gay pride in Norway
  2. Belgian PM: Gas shortage requires joint response
  3. Bulgarian MPs set conditions for lifting enlargement veto
  4. Latvia: We need a brigade-size Nato force to 'feel safe'
  5. Deal reached on controversial energy treaty reform
  6. EU carbon emissions from energy up 6% in 2021
  7. Germany step closer to gas rationing
  8. Albania: EU 'disgrace' at lack of enlargement progress

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  2. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  4. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic think tank examines influence of tech giants

Latest News

  1. EU summit's uncertainty in the face of economic war
  2. Next winter's gas looms large at EU summer summit
  3. Ukraine becomes EU candidate after 120 days of war
  4. How to enhance EU cybersecurity
  5. Competing options for EU enlargement
  6. MEPs demand to exit 'ecocide treaty' after reforms 'fail'
  7. Finland optimistic in Turkey talks over Nato
  8. Hungary's global-tax veto seen as 'blackmail'

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us