Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

Opinion

Time to put Antwerp's Russian diamonds on EU sanctions list

  • Antwerp's Central Station - the surrounding city quarter is the diamond capital of the world (Photo: Wikimedia)
Listen to article

Anyone walking around the area surrounding Antwerp's Central Station can hardly ignore it. Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world. Thanks to its strategic location, the city has been inextricably linked to the trade and processing of the raw stones for centuries.

Around 85 percent of the world's rough diamonds, half of polished diamonds and 40 percent of industrial diamonds pass through Antwerp.

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

  • 'Nobody wants a blood diamond on their finger' (Photo: Dittmeyer)

But today a dark shadow looms over the once magnificent diamond quarter. Almost a third of the diamonds for trade in Antwerp come from Russia. Rough diamonds remain an important source of income for the Russian war apparatus. Every year Russia is raking in approximately $4bn [€3.7bn] in revenues through the export of rough diamonds.

Alrosa, which accounts for the majority of Russian diamond mining, has close ties to the Kremlin. Its CEO, Sergei Ivanov, is the son of one of Putin's closest allies. The profits Alrosa makes finance the war against Ukraine. In addition, the company also has ties to the military industry and Rosatom.

And yet the diamond industry has managed to evade sanctions for nine European sanctions packages. They remain convinced that voluntary measures will suffice to eventually reduce the trade in Russian blood diamonds to zero.

That attitude is incomprehensible. In doing so, Antwerp undermines its own reputation as a sustainable and ethical trading center for diamonds. Striking, because the city has always played a pioneering role in this area.

As early as 1447, the city took strict measures against the trade in fake gems, including diamonds. And more recently, Antwerp was one of the pioneers of the Kimberley Process in an effort to ban blood diamonds from Africa from the European market. Why doesn't the Antwerp diamond sector show that same leadership today?

Import ban

The preparatory talks on the tenth European package of sanctions will start shortly. It remains unacceptable that Belgium, through the trade in a luxury product, continues to finance the ongoing bombing of Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. It is high time that Russian diamonds, Alrosa and its CEO are added to the European list of sanctions.

The European Commission must put forward an ambitious proposal.

A halfway job will not be sufficient. We must reduce the trade in Russian blood diamonds to zero. An import ban on all forms of Russian diamonds seems to be the only right option.

Belgium has always said it will not block a ban on Russian rough diamonds. But the fact that diamonds were never included in the earlier sanction packages was a stroke of luck.

After witnessing the continued attacks against Ukraine and its citizens, Belgium now needs to shift gear and proactively support such an import ban.

In addition, Europe must prevent Russia from circumventing sanctions by shifting its exports to other trading centres such as Dubai and Mumbai.

To this end, the European Union must strengthen cooperation with other international partners and make binding agreements on the trade in Russian diamonds. More than 70 percent of the diamond market lies in the G7 countries.

Under the impulse of the European Union, the G7 could also work on an import ban for both direct and indirect trade. Russian diamonds that were processed in third countries must also be included in such an import ban.

Traceability

But the real key to ensuring a sustainable and ethical trade in diamonds lies in improving their traceability. Currently, diamonds are graded based on quality characteristics, such as weight, shape or colour.

The mining origin is considered irrelevant during the valuation and sorting process. But nobody wants a blood diamond on their finger. Increasingly — and rightly so — both consumers and leading jewelry companies expect their diamonds to be 'clean'. The technology to trace diamonds throughout the supply chain already exists today. Let us work together, including with partner countries in Africa, to set a new ethical standard for diamonds around the globe

By demonstrating leadership, we could kill three birds with one stone. We resolutely opt for sustainable and ethical diamonds, we exclude the trade in Russian blood diamonds from our market and put further pressure on Putin's war machine.

Moreover, all of this will give Antwerp the best chances to continue to fulfill its role as the diamond capital in the coming centuries.

A Flemish version of this op-ed was published in the Belgian Newspaper De Morgen.

Author bio

Kathleen Van Brempt is a Belgian MEP from Antwerp, with the Socialists & Democrats group.Vicky Reynaert is a federal member of the Belgian parliament, for the Vooruit party.

Disclaimer

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

Agenda

New sanctions and democracy in focus This WEEK

On Monday, Brussels will see EU foreign affairs ministers focusing on a 10th sanctions package against Russia, a special tribunal, and preparing the EU-Ukraine summit on 3 February in Kyiv.

Column

Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?

Countries that were once democratising are now moving in the other direction — think of Turkey, Myanmar, Hungary or Tunisia. On the other hand, in autocracies mass mobilisation rarely succeeds in changing political institutions. Think of Belarus, Iran or Algeria.

Column

Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?

Countries that were once democratising are now moving in the other direction — think of Turkey, Myanmar, Hungary or Tunisia. On the other hand, in autocracies mass mobilisation rarely succeeds in changing political institutions. Think of Belarus, Iran or Algeria.

Greece's spy scandal must shake us out of complacency

The director of Amnesty International Greece on the political spying scandal that now threatens to bring down prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Activists and NGO staff work with the constant fear that they are being spied on.

Latest News

  1. Hungary blames conspiracy for EU corruption rating
  2. Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?
  3. EU lobby register still riddled with errors
  4. Polish backpedal on windfarms put EU funds at risk
  5. More money, more problems in EU answer to US green subsidies
  6. Study: EU electricity transition sped into high gear in 2022
  7. Russia and China weaponised pandemic to sow distrust, MEPs hear
  8. Frontex to spend €100m on returning migrants this year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us