Circumventing sanctions, such as the ones taken against Russia for its war on Ukraine, is to become a European Union crime, the Czech Presidency of the EU Council announced on Monday.
EU countries "unanimously" adopted a decision to add the violation of restrictive measures to the list of "EU crimes" included in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, a statement from the Council stated.
The aim is to come up with the same legal definitions across the EU as to what constitutes a violation of sanctions and agree to common minimum penalties in case such crimes are committed as these currently vary from member state to member state, potentially creating loopholes.
It should then make it easier for the bloc to take individuals and entities to court if they do not adhere to sanctions.
"The EU has responded with determination to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine. It has adopted an unprecedented number of sanctions to target Russia’s economy and thwart its ability to continue with this aggression," Pavel Blažek, Czech Minister of Justice said.
"To succeed, their implementation requires a joint effort, and today’s decision is an essential tool to ensure any attempts to circumvent these measures will be stopped," he added.
The European Commission is now tasked with presenting a proposal for a directive containing rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and penalties for the violation of EU restrictive measures.
It will then need to be negotiated and approved by both the Council and the European Parliament.
The Commission is expected to submit a proposal by the end of the week, with the aim of "moving quickly" to counter circumvention of sanctions, an EU source said.
The EU has so far rolled out eight packages of sanctions against Russia banning imports of coal, oil, gas and steel into the bloc and the exports of a wide array of products including technology that can be used by the military into Russia.