Introduction

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.

Objectives

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 the Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis 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

2020

9 October 2020
19 June 2020
3 June 2020
11 May 2020

2019

2018

2017

EU blocking statute

Council Regulation (EC) No 2271/96 (‘blocking statute’) protects EU operators from the extra-territorial application of third country laws.