EUROPEAN THINK-TANK REVIEW – Articles 4 (January 2015)

Written by | Monday, January 19th, 2015

Improving the Effectiveness of Sanctions: A Checklist for the EU
Anthonius W. de Vries, Clara Portela and Borja Guijarro-Usobiaga (Centre for European Policy Studies)

In the last decade, the European Union has been more and more audacious in using sanctions as the main weapon of its foreign policy. This growing trend is a plausible counterargument to the assertion that EU sanctions are ineffective and their impact is counterproductive. It has become obvious that since the introduction of the so-called second pillar of the EU, i.e. Common Foreign and Security Policy, in line with the Treaty of Maastricht signed in 2002, sanctions have had a discernible impact on the behavior of problematic international actors, e.g. Belarus, Myanmar, or Zimbabwe. However, there is a great room for improvement, especially with regard to the preparation of sanctions and the evaluation of their potential positive or negative impact.

For the purpose of more effective sanctions, it is essential to clearly define the target and rigorously trace its resources. Simultaneously, the target’s options to re-orientate to different resources must be monitored and their alternation must be prevented. The planning of sanctions should be preceded by a qualified estimate of their potential negative impact, mainly related to economic losses, about which the Member States should be notified. The unintentional impacts could include for example unwanted damage inflicted on the actors who were not the primary target of the sanctions and who, as a consequence, could sympathize with those countries who were meant to be punished (e.g. the recent case of EU sanctions towards the Russian Federation). Another consequence of this effect could be the implementation of “counter-sanctions”, whereby the EU must be prepared for this scenario and be ready to respond with appropriate counter-measures.

It should be noted that, generally speaking, the fundamental condition for the successful implementation of sanctions is that these abide by the international law and are not in contradiction with the international obligations of the Union. A substantial element of every new package of sanctions is their overall coherence and also that they are in line with the common goals of the EU foreign policy. A special emphasis must be laid on public diplomacy and proper communication which is necessary in order to explain the purpose of the sanctions and their possible negative as well as positive impacts – in short, effective public diplomacy could contribute to the successful attainment of the EU foreign policy’s main objectives. In conclusion, sanctions should be created meticulously and thoroughly while taking into consideration their possible unintended impact.
(The study can be downloaded here:




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