Overview of sanctions and related tools - European Commission
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.
You may visit: EU sanctions map
EU sanctions whistleblower tool
Sharing of information about EU sanctions violations can contribute to the success of ongoing investigations in EU Member States and increase the effectiveness of EU sanctions.
If you are aware of possible violations of any EU sanctions, you can bring this to the Commission’s attention by voluntarily providing information. This information can relate, for example, to facts concerning sanctions violations, their circumstances and the individuals, companies and third countries involved. These can be facts that are not publicly known but are known to you and can cover past, ongoing or planned sanctions violations, as well as attempts to circumvent EU sanctions.
There are two ways you can report sanctions violations:
Contact us directly: you can help us best if you come forward and provide your name and contact details, since this will give your statement more credibility and make it more likely that we are able to take action. To report sanctions violations this way you can simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Remain anonymous: if you do not want to reveal your identity you can send us an anonymous message through the EU sanctions whistleblower tool, which is a highly secure online platform. The European Commission, who manages the tool, is fully committed to protecting your anonymity.
To access the tool, learn how your anonymity is protected, and report a sanctions violation, please copy paste or manually re-type the following URL for security reasons:
Adoption and review procedure for EU sanctions
Adoption of a Council decision
Restrictive measures are laid down in Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) Council decisions. A proposal is made by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR).
The proposed measures are then examined and discussed by the relevant Council preparatory bodies:
- the Council working party responsible for the geographical region to which the targeted country belongs (for example, the Eastern Europe and Central Asia Working Party (COEST) for Ukraine or Belarus; the Mashreq/Maghreb Working Party for Syria, or other preparatory body),
- the Working Party of Foreign Relations Counsellors Working Party (RELEX),
- if required, the Political and Security Committee (PSC),
- the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER II).
The decision is then adopted by the Council by unanimity.
If the Council Decision includes an asset freeze and/or other types of economic and/or financial sanctions, those measures need to be implemented in a Council regulation.
Adoption of a Council regulation
Based on the CFSP Council decision, the High Representative and the Commission present a joint proposal for a Council regulation.
The joint proposal is examined by RELEX and forwarded to COREPER and the Council for adoption. The Council then informs the European Parliament of the adoption of the Council regulation.
The regulation lays down the precise scope of the measures and details for their implementation. As a legal act of general application, the regulation is binding on any person or entity (economic operators, public authorities, etc.) within the EU.
Entry into force
The Council decision enters into force upon publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.
The CFSP Council decision and the Council regulation are adopted together to allow for both legal acts to produce their effects at the same time. This is particularly relevant in the case of an asset freeze.
Measures laid down only in the CFSP decision, such as arms embargoes or travel restrictions, will be implemented by the member states, while the Commission will verify that the member states have implemented the regulations in a proper and timely manner.
Persons and entities subject to an asset freeze or travel restrictions (listed persons and entities) are notified of the measures that have been taken against them:
- individually by letter if their address is available,
- by means of a notice published by the Council in the "C" Series of the Official Journal of the European Union.
All restrictive measures in force are kept under constant review to ensure that they continue to contribute towards achieving their stated objectives.
Restrictive measures against cyber-attacks threatening the Union or its Member States
Through the adoption of the “Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox” on 19 June 2017, the Council stressed the growing need to protect the integrity and security of the EU, its Member States and their citizens against cyber threats and malicious cyber activities.
At the European Council on 18 October 2018, Member States called for the introduction of a new EU sanctions regime to build up the EU and its Member States’ capacity to respond to and to deter cyber-attacks. The Council established the new sanctions regime on 17 May 2019, introducing targeted restrictive measures against cyber-attacks threatening the Union or its Member States.
The measures consist of asset freeze and travel ban of persons and/or entities responsible for cyber-attacks or attempted cyber-attacks, as well as those involved in or offering financial, technical or material support for these attacks and those who assist, encourage, facilitate or are associated with them.