Restrictive measures (sanctions) are an essential tool in the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP), through which the EU can intervene where necessary to prevent conflict or respond to emerging or current crises. In spite of their colloquial name ‘sanctions’, EU restrictive measures are not punitive. They are intended to bring about a change in policy or activity by targeting non-EU countries, as well as entities and individuals, responsible for the malign behaviour at stake.
The EU has over forty different sanctions regimes in place. Some are mandated by the United Nations Security Council, whereas others are adopted autonomously by the EU.
Decisions on the adoption, renewal, or lifting of sanctions regimes are taken by the Council of the European Union, on the basis of proposals from the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The European Commission, together with the High Representative, give effect to these decisions into EU law through joint proposals for Council regulations, also adopted by the Council. In addition, in its role as guardian of the treaties the Commission has an essential role in overseeing sanctions implementation by Member States.
The EU applies sanctions to implement UN Security Council Resolutions or to further the objectives of the CFSP, namely
- promoting international peace and security
- preventing conflicts
- supporting democracy, the rule of law and human rights and
- defending the principles of international law
Types of measures
EU sanctions may target governments of non-EU countries, as well as companies, groups, organisations, or individuals through the following measures
- arms embargoes
- restrictions on admission (travel bans)
- asset freezes
- other economic measures such as restrictions on imports and exports
EU sanctions are carefully targeted, and designed to be proportionate to the objectives they seek to achieve. As such, they are aimed at those responsible for the policies or actions the EU wants to influence, while reducing as much as possible any unintended consequences.
Where do EU sanctions apply?
While EU sanctions inherently have an effect in non-EU countries, as they are a foreign policy tool, the measures apply only within EU jurisdiction. In other words, the obligations they impose are binding on EU nationals or persons located in the EU or doing business here.
The task of conducting investigations into potential non-compliance cases falls to the Member States and their national competent authorities. Member States must have in place effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties, and enforce them when EU sanctions are breached.
The role of the European Commission
The Directorate-General for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union (DG FISMA) prepares proposals for Regulations on sanctions for adoption by the Council of the European Union, and represents the European Commission in sanctions-related discussions with Member States at the Council Working Party of Foreign Relations Counsellors. DG FISMA is also responsible for transposing into EU law certain United Nations sanctions.
DG FISMA is also in charge of monitoring, on behalf of the European Commission, the implementation and enforcement of EU sanctions across Member States. DG FISMA is increasingly supporting Member States in their efforts to apply sanctions, by answering questions of interpretation raised by national competent authorities, as well as economic and humanitarian operators.
DG FISMA is dedicating increasing efforts to strengthening the application of EU sanctions even further, and to enhancing the resilience of the EU to extra-territorial sanctions adopted by third countries. This is reflected in the mission letter of Commissioner Mairead McGuinness and in the Commission’s Work Programme 2020, as part of the financial sovereignty initiative (see also the EU Blocking Statute).
EU sanctions map
The EU sanctions map provides comprehensive details of all EU sanctions regimes and their corresponding legal acts, including those regimes adopted by the UN Security Council and transposed at EU level.
EU sanctions tool
The EU sanctions tool aims to help EU companies in determining whether EU sanctions apply to their exports, imports and business with Iran. By providing an easy-to-use compliance assessment, the tool is designed as a first point of reference for EU companies at an early stage of their business engagement in Iran.
Due diligence helpdesk
The Due diligence helpdesk, also designed for EU SMEs interested in trade with Iran, provides tailor-made support by carrying out due diligence checks on EU sanctions compliance for specific business projects.
Financial sanctions: Consolidated list
The consolidated list of persons, groups and entities subject to EU financial sanctions, which DG FISMA manages and updates whenever necessary, reflects the officially adopted texts published in the Official Journal of the EU. You can also download a PDF version of the consolidated list of financial sanctions.
Guidance on the implementation of EU sanctions
- 17 December 2020
- 16 November 2020
- 9 October 2020
- 19 June 2020
- 3 June 2020
- 11 May 2020
- Q&A due diligence on restrictive measures for EU businesses dealing with Iran
- Commission opinion on the compatibility of national asset freezes imposed by Member States with Union law - 8 November 2019
- Commission opinion on Article 5(1) of Council Regulation (EU) No 833/2014 - 7 October 2019
- Commission opinion on the application of derogations from the freezing of funds and from the prohibition of making funds and economic resources available to designated persons and entities - 29 August 2019
- Commission opinion on a request for interpretation concerning the provision of higher education and the undertaking of applied research in the framework of a prohibition to provide technology or technical assistance to a third country - 5 August 2019
- Commission opinion on a request for interpretation concerning the freeze of funds of a non-designated person transferred into a Member State from a designated bank and the derogation for “extraordinary expenses” under Article 28 of Council Regulation (EU) 267/2012 - 4 July 2019
- Commission opinion on the export ban established by Council Regulation (EU) No 692/2014 - 4 July 2019
- Commission opinion on Article 5(4) of Council Regulation (EU) 2016/44 - 7 June 2019
- Guidance note on the import and export ban of luxury goods under Council Regulation (EU) 2017/1509 (restrictive measures towards the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) - 31 January 2019
- Information note to EU business on operating and/or investing in Crimea/Sevastopol - 25 January 2018
- Commission guidance note on the implementation of certain provisions of Regulation (EU) No 833/2014 - 25 August 2017
- Commission frequently asked questions on EU restrictive measures in Syria - 1 September 2017
EU blocking statute
Council Regulation (EC) No 2271/96 (‘blocking statute’) protects EU operators from the extra-territorial application of third country laws.