May 27. 2024. 8:31

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Netherlands calls for EU sanctions enforcement headquarters

The EU should set up a body to tackle mass circumvention of the bloc’s sanctions against Russia centrally from Brussels, Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said on Monday (20 February).

Although Russia suffers greatly from the EU’s restrictive measures, “at the same time they are being evaded on a massive scale”, Hoekstra said.

“We currently have too little capacity in the EU to analyse, coordinate, and promote new sanctions – that is why I would like us to set up a sanctions headquarters in Brussels, aimed at circumvention,” Hoekstra said.

According to the Dutch minister, “this would be a place where member states can pool information and resources on effectiveness and evasion, where we do much more to fight circumvention”.

The new sanctions headquarters would establish a watch list of sectors and trade flows with a high circumvention risk, according to the Dutch proposal.

“Companies will be obliged to include end-use clauses in their contracts so that their products don’t end up in the Russian war machine,” Hoekstra said.

“The EU must use the full strength of its collective economic strength and criminal justice systems against those who assist in sanction evasion – by naming, shaming, sanctioning, and prosecuting them,” he said.

The Hague started circulating the proposal a week ago, with a dozen EU member states voicing their support for it – including Germany, France, Spain and Italy, Hoekstra told a group of reporters.

Currently, the decision of implementing sanctions lies with member states, who decide on the introduction of the bloc’s restrictive measures by unanimity, with their implementation lying largely in the hands of EU capitals.

“There is support, but we will need to specify what it can do,” Hoekstra said.

In May last year, the EU’s executive unveiled plans under which the violation of EU sanctions would become a crime across the EU.

The proposal still needs the backing of member states, which have traditionally been cautious about reforms that require changes to their criminal laws.

With this legal measure in place, the new body could sent cases directly to the EU’s general prosecutor.

Asked by EURACTIV whether the new headquarters would also deal with the seizing and freezing of frozen Russian assets, Hoekstra said that the details would still need to be hashed out.

“To me, it is crystal clear that this will be a fundamental part of our future geopolitical toolbox, that we need more for this specific purpose, for this specific war,” Hoekstra said.

In December, the EU also appointed a special sanctions envoy to push for tighter enforcement and alignment with its restrictive measures in third countries.