Towards an EU global sanctions regime for corruption

Briefing 09-02-2023

Corruption, and particularly grand corruption relating to government officials, has a harmful effect on democracy, the rule of law, human rights, security, the eradication of poverty, and sustainable development, all objectives of the EU's external action. Corruption in third countries can also affect the functioning of EU democracy with flows of money buying political influence in the EU. In her 2022 State of the Union address, the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, proposed to include corruption in the EU's human rights sanctions regime. The Commission cannot initiate the relevant legislation on its own, however. EU sanctions are laid down in common foreign and security policy-related decisions, adopted unanimously by the Council on the basis of a proposal by the High Representative. If such a Council decision includes economic or financial sanctions, these need to be implemented by means of a Council regulation, following a joint proposal of the High Representative and the Commission. While the drafting of the new legislation has not yet officially begun, the Council is holding debates on the appropriateness of using CFSP sanctions to target corruption. The approach to adopt in order to impose sanctions to target corruption globally could involve creating a horizontal sanctions framework (by expanding the scope of the existing human rights sanctions mechanism adopted in 2020 or by setting up a new dedicated regime), or introducing case-by-case country-specific sanctions regimes. Although Parliament does not play a formal role in the legislative process leading to the adoption of sanctions, since 2012 – when the international debate on the possibility of establishing such a sanctions regime first arose – it has expressed strong support for an EU sanctions regime applicable to corruption globally, and has asked to be involved in this process.