The European Union is also showing increasing
activity as an initiator of sanctions. There are several conditions for this. First, the EU is a
powerful economy with huge human, financial and technological potential. Economic power is the most
important condition, without which an effective policy of sanctions is simply impossible. After all,
sanctions are effective when the initiator can inflict much greater harm on the target country than
vice versa. Second, the European Union has not yet become an independent military-political force.
Its foreign policy is based on soft power and economic instruments, so in conflict situations,
sanctions are the best option. Third, the EU coordinates its sanctions policy with the actions of
the United States, its main ally. The growing number of sanctions on the part of Washington has also
led to the growth of sanctions initiated by Brussels.
At the same time, there are a number
of distinguished features that define the EU approach. One of the key elements is the commitment of
Brussels to multilateral diplomacy. The EU avoids being the sole initiator of sanctions. This is an
important difference from the United States. The Americans often impose sanctions without any regard
for others. They recognise the importance of coalition pressure on the target countries and strive
to involve their allies and a wider range of countries in launching sanctions. However, their
support for the United States is more instrumental – the more sizable the coalition, the greater its
potential for taking a toll on the economies of sanctioned countries. However, for the EU, the
multilateral use of sanctions remains an important normative issue and even means of conveying
shared values. The European Union carefully implements UN Security Council resolutions, and EU
countries which are members of the UN Security Council have often offered their own draft
resolutions on sanctions.
The EU, however, allows sanctions which bypass the decisions of
the UN Security Council. Here the policy of Brussels differs from the positions of Moscow and
Beijing, which consider the UN Security Council as the only legitimate source of sanctions. These
countries also use unilateral measures, but so far they've done it much less often in comparison
with the EU and especially the USA. However, by bypassing the UN, the EU is trying to combine
efforts with the United States and other Western countries, that is, to provide a multilateral
format. At the same time, the EU retains its own view on many problems and calibrates a set of
restrictive measures at its sole discretion.
Another important distinction of EU policy is its
extremely reserved attitude towards extraterritorial sanctions. The European Union authorities may
well use secondary sanctions, that is, to punish certain companies or organisations for violating
existing restrictions. However, Brussels uses such measures within its jurisdiction. The United
States, on the contrary, is increasingly introducing secondary sanctions against foreigners, putting
foreign companies on the SDN list or fining violators.
Interestingly, over the past ten
years, most of the related fines were levied against European companies. This situation may well be
called the "European paradox." EU authorities support many US sanctions initiatives, but at the same
time many Europeans are negatively affected by the secondary sanctions. They pay the most fines.
According to the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), over the past 10 years, out of 201 US
Treasury fines, 40 were levied against EU companies and 133 were paid by US companies. In just 10
years, the US Treasury has collected $ 5.6 billion in fines. Of these, the Europeans paid more than
$ 4.6 billion (83%), and the Americans only paid 177.2 million (3%). This distribution resembles the
"Pareto law": most of the revenue is generated by a minority of players. And this minority is
concentrated in Europe, whereas the smaller proportion was paid by the US-based majority. Of course,
such a distribution can hardly be the result of the deliberate activity of American authorities. But
the fact remains: Europeans pay the most.
At least since the 1990s, The European Union has
tried to take measures to protect itself from secondary US sanctions. A serious incentive was the US
withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme.
Washington unilaterally resumed large-scale financial and sectoral sanctions against Iran. A
significant number of companies operating in the Iranian market, including European ones, turned out
to be facing the threat of secondary sanctions and subsequent penalties. The EU has resumed the
so-called 1996 Blocking Statute, which should shield European companies from secondary sanctions.
However, a significant number of big EU companies have already left Iran. Many large European
companies which do business in Iran also conduct business in the US, and preferred to maintain their
loyalty to American requirements, even though Brussels was critical of the US withdrawal from the
JCPOA and introduced protective measures. The threat of having problems with the US authorities in
the form of fines and "weaning" from the US market and financial system outweighs possible profits
in the Iranian market.
In Europe, some politicians proposed establishing their own payment
system, in the interests of European sovereignty and financial independence. In January 2019, INSTEX
SAS company was registered in France (with the participation of Germany and the United Kingdom). It
was tasked with securing transactions between European companies and Iran, bypassing US sanctions.
So far the fate of this initiative remains unclear. The big problem is its approval by other EU
members. Also, the real functionality of INSTEX remains unclear. In the end, nothing is preventing
the Americans from including INSTEX in their SDN list, making it "toxic", or fining the company in
proportion to the volume of its deals with Iran.