EESC advocates for protection of humanitarian aid and civil society in EU sanctions legislation


In its March plenary, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted an opinion urging the European Institutions to address the fragmented implementation of foreign policy sanctions across Member States. The EESC is concerned about the inconsistency in standards and in the application of sanctions in national legislation, and is calling for immediate action to protect humanitarian aid and journalists in sanctioned regimes.

The Council of the European Union sets foreign policy sanctions for all Member States, however their implementation and enforcement are currently decentralised. This has resulted in a patchwork of differing definitions, scopes, penalties, and investigative capacities across Member States. This fragmentation undermines the effectiveness of EU sanctions and risks dividing the Union, with some countries more lenient on sanction violations than others.

To address these issues, the European Commission has proposed a directive to standardise criminal offenses and penalties for violating EU sanctions. This proposal is supported by the inclusion of sanction violations among the list of EU crimes under Article 83(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. With its opinion on the Violation of sanctions / EU crimes, the EESC supports this proposal as a crucial step towards protecting the European Union and its citizens from threats to peace, democracy and security, and puts forward a series of recommendations.

The EESC opinion urges the EU institutions to expand the humanitarian carve-out in order to prevent any unintended negative consequences on humanitarian aid and assistance. “We want to protect the delivery of humanitarian aid to people in need, living under sanctioned regimes,” explained EESC Member José Antonio Moreno Díaz, rapporteur of the opinion. “We ask for a standing humanitarian exemption, to ensure that humanitarian staff can operate without risking criminal liability.”

These exemptions would include provisions exempting and protecting humanitarian organisations and personnel from criminal prosecution, as well as those safeguarding whistle-blowers and journalists who report on such violations. The EESC also calls for the establishment of appropriate mechanisms to prevent abuse for criminal or political purposes.

Furthermore, the Committee stressed the need to provide adequate information and proactive support to the private sector and civil society organisations, to enable them to adjust to new legislation and comply with the requirements of sanction regimes. It therefore asks for Member States to be equipped with sufficient administrative capacities, funds, and trained personnel to detect, prosecute and punish sanction violations. This would include sharing best practices among judicial and law enforcement authorities to ensure that EU sanctions are enforced consistently and effectively across all Member States.

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