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After weeks of equivocation that made it appear the EU might never move to “phase three” sanctions against Russia – which would target entire sectors of the Russian economy rather than just individuals and “entities” – on Friday things began to move very quickly.
First, EU ambassadors (known as Coreperin euro-speak) tasked the European Commission with drawing up the legislation needed to approve the new sanctions, which would go after the Russian financial, energy and defence sectors. Details of what the sanctions are expected to look like are here.
Then, late on Friday, Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, sent a letter to all EU prime ministers urging them to quickly endorse the sanctions package, and to give their EU ambassadors the authority to sign off on them Tuesday. Some countries have been calling for an emergency summit of leaders to approve them, but Van Rompuy clearly wants to move faster. The text of the Van Rompuy letter, obtained by the Brussels Blog, is here:
Further to the European Council on 16 July and the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 July, I would like to inform you of the steps being taken to reinforce restrictive measures with regards to the situation in Ukraine and to the aftermath of the tragic downing of flight MH17.On 24 July, the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) agreed to list 33 further entities and persons. It also expanded the legal basis of the restrictive measures so as to target individuals or entities actively providing material or financial support to or benefiting from the Russian decision makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea or the destabilisation of Eastern-Ukraine.A Trade and Investment ban for Crimea andSevastopolas well as an additional list of entities and individuals both under the current and the expanded criteria will be ready for adoption by COREPER on 28 July.As requested by the Foreign Affairs Council, the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) presented to COREPER a set of restrictive measures related to access to capital markets, defence, dual use goods, and sensitive technologies on 24 July. My assessment is that this package strikes the right balance when it comes to cost/benefit ratio and scalability/reversibility over time. It should have a strong impact on Russia’s economy while keeping a moderate effect on EU economies.In particular, the discussion among Ambassadors allowed to identify an emerging consensus on some key principles:
- The overall balance will be maintained across sectors and across Member States;
- The principle of non-retroactivity will apply across all targeted sectors, notably in the field of arms trade and restrictions on access to capital markets;
- The measures in the field of sensitive technologies will only affect the oil sector in view of the need to preserve EU energy security;
- The prohibition of dual-use technology exports will be limited at this stage to military end-users.As far as the other concerns expressed by Member States, notably on the impact on our economies, I have asked the Commission to keep these under constant review and to keep Member States closely involved.The preparation of the legal acts will be finalized in the next few hours and will be presented to COREPER with a view to approving them by Tuesday 29 July. I would like to ask you that you instruct your Ambassador in order to complete an agreement by this date.
Although Van Rompuy’s endorsement does not in and of itself mean the measures will pass, the former Belgian prime minister is widely known as a wily operator who always has his fingers of the political pulse in Berlin, Paris and London. It is unlikely he would go out on such a limb without knowing he has the support of the EU’s most important foreign policy capitals.
Tough EU sanctions appear to have just become far more likely.