12th Apr 2024

Berlin repeats support for EU human rights sanctions

  • European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (Photo:

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

Get the EU news that really matters

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.


"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.


EU should use 'all means' to end war in Gaza: Belgian minister

The EU should use "all means" possible to end the violence in Gaza, including sanctions, a peace conference, and a review of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, Belgian development cooperation minister Caroline Gennez told EUobserver.


EU should use 'all means' to end war in Gaza: Belgian minister

The EU should use "all means" possible to end the violence in Gaza, including sanctions, a peace conference, and a review of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, Belgian development cooperation minister Caroline Gennez told EUobserver.


The Bolsonaro-Orbán far-right nexus

Defeated far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has given various reasons for sheltering at the Hungarian embassy in Brasilia — none of them make sense.

Latest News

  1. UK-EU deal on Gibraltar only 'weeks away'
  2. Belgium declares war on MEPs who took Russian 'cash'
  3. Brussels Dispatches: Foreign interference in the spotlight
  4. Calling time on Amazon's monopolism and exploitation
  5. Resist backlash on deforestation law, green groups tell EU
  6. China's high-quality development brings opportunities to the world
  7. Ukraine tops aid list again, but EU spending slumps
  8. Who did Russia pay? MEPs urge spies to give names

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us