Proposal for a directive on the definition of criminal offences and penalties for the violation of Union restrictive measures

In “Promoting our European Way of Life”

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EU restrictive measures or sanctions are imposed under the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) for the purpose of safeguarding EU values, such as maintaining international peace and security. Today, the EU has over 40 sanctions regimes in place against countries, entities, legal and natural persons, either implementing United Nations Security Council sanctions or based on EU autonomous decisions. Restrictive measures include arms embargoes, import and export bans on certain objects or substances, freezing of funds and economic resources and travel bans. Member States are required to adopt national rules providing for effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties for infringements.

National systems differ significantly as concerns the criminalisation of the violation of EU sanctions, including as regards the nature of the offence (criminal or administrative) and the penalties applied. 

To make it easier to investigate, prosecute and punish violations of EU restrictive measures and ensure their uniform implementation in all Member States, on 2 December 2022 the Commission adopted a proposal for a directive to harmonise criminal offences and penalties for such violations. 

The proposal’s main objectives are to approximate definitions of criminal offences related to the violation of EU sanctions and to ensure effective, dissuasive and proportionate penalty types and levels for such offences.

Article 3  defines the offences to be criminalised by the Member States, if committed intentionally. It covers violations of the prohibitions and restrictions contained in EU sanctions, conduct intended to circumvent EU sanctions, and breaching conditions under authorisations granted by competent authorities to conduct certain activities otherwise prohibited. Certain violations of EU sanctions are also a criminal offence when they result from serious negligence. The proposal also criminalises inciting and aiding and abetting the commission of the criminal offences listed in Article 3, as well as the attempt to commit most of these offences. Certain activities are exempted, such as the provision of goods and services meant to fulfil the basic human needs of listed persons and their dependent family members or the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Member States are obliged to ensure that legal persons are held liable.

The proposal sets minimum rules on penalties, for both natural and legal persons. For natural persons, depending on the nature of the offence, prison sentences can range from one to five years, if the funds or economic resources involved have a value of at least €100 000. Penalties against legal persons must include criminal or non-criminal fines and other penalties detailed in the proposal. According to the offence, legal persons may be given a fine of at least one percent or five percent of their global turnover in the preceding year.

The proposal includes aggravating and mitigating circumstances, obligations for Member States to establish jurisdiction and to cooperate with each other and with other EU bodies, such as Europol, Eurojust, the European Public Prosecutor's Office, and the Commission.

The directive has a six months transposition deadline.

In parallel, the proposed Directive on asset recovery and confiscation, which Parliament approved in March 2024, is intended to cover also the violation of EU sanctions. 

In the European Parliament, the file was assigned to the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). The appointed rapporteur was Sophia In't Veld.

On 19 April, the Committee on Budgets issued its opinion.

On 3 May 2023, the LIBE Rapporteur published the draft report which was adopted on 6 July 2023. The report proposed more severe penalties for natural persons, as well as higher fines applicable to legal persons. It also added to the list of aggravating circumstances and proposed to criminalise certain acts committed with negligence. On 12 July, the plenary of the Parliament confirmed the decision to enter into inter-institutional negotiations.

On 9 June, the Council adopted its general approach, which limited the scope of the directive to serious violations, excluded acts committed with serious negligence from criminalisation and, as regards the maximum level of fines for legal persons, gave the possibility to Member States to choose between using a percentage of the total worldwide turnover of the legal person or to determine the fine in absolute amounts; it extended the transposition deadline to 12 months.

On 12 December 2023, Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on the proposal. The agreement set consistent definitions for violations of sanctions, including the possibility of criminalizing the commission of certain crimes involving serious negligence. The circumvention of sanctions is also a punishable offence. The fines proposed by the Council as regards legal persons were maintained.

The Parliament adopted the agreement on 12 March 2024. Council gave its final approval to the agreed text on 12 April 2024.

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Author: Beatrix Immenkamp, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

As of 20/04/2024.