Experts see a dangerous move by Brussels on sanctions: they wonder if there will be more of them?

Central and Eastern Europe

Petras Auštrevičius, Member of the European Parliament and representative of the Liberal Movement, believes that the European Commission (EC) has overstepped the boundaries of its competence, as it should not interpret the law. According to him, the EC is a branch of the executive branch of government that is supposed to implement decisions taken at the political level. Still, now it has started to interpret legal matters and has taken the dangerous step of wanting to weaken sanctions. The MEP asks whether this is the last such step. Could there be more news portal asks.

Following the EC’s clarification on the Kaliningrad transit, experts are calling on the President and the Government not to give in and make any concessions to Russia. Sanctioned goods cannot be transported by rail either, they say.

“The discussion on sanctions against Kaliningrad has been going on for a long time. I would venture to say that it was not the EU side that initiated the clarification or the debate on this issue. It has to be admitted that, unfortunately, the EU has not been able to stand up to the information terrorism from the Russian side – they [the Russians] have formulated accusations of boycotting the EU, of downgrading special conditions, etc., and they have started to develop political lobbying. It bore fruit”, Auštrevičius told a press conference at the Seimas.

The MEP urged to look at the fact that Russia’s aggression in the war against Ukraine is not stopping and that there is no incentive to look for exceptions to the sanctions.

“Do we see factors encouraging us to seek exceptions to sanctions now? Yesterday, dozens of people, civilians, were killed in Vinnytsia, another act of military terrorism against Ukraine. It is our duty to explain, link these things, and see the big picture, not to be distracted and look for reasons for the aggressor.

I do not see any reason to say that the Kaliningrad Region, which is part of the Russian Federation, is somehow absent from the war against Ukraine. Quite the opposite. Troops have been moved to the front line against Ukraine, and goods produced in Kaliningrad are also supplied to the Russian market and are likely to end up on the front line. The Kaliningrad region is neither boycotted nor isolated. The transit of sanctioned goods must be prevented. Otherwise, it is very difficult to explain why we need a sanctions policy at all,” said Mr Auštrevičius.

According to Mr Auštrevičius, the EC has exceeded the limits of its competitors because it should not interpret the law.

“You see, what is needed is the courage to strengthen sanctions, not to weaken them. This second interpretation is a step in that direction, and it seems likely that it is. My fellow lawyers will try to argue that in this case, and I would agree that the European Commission has overstepped the bounds of its competencies.

You see, the EC is not the final authority in the EU to interpret the law. No, it is the executive branch of government that has to implement decisions taken at the political level. In this case, a rather dangerous step has been taken in a geopolitical context where the intention is to weaken sanctions. I will ask the question: is this the last such step? Perhaps there will be more?

I am not sure that this is the last interpretation, seeing what could happen. Unfortunately, I would be inclined to say that this will encourage Russia to put further pressure on it and I would dare to say. However, it is not stated in the clarification that this clarification will only work in relation to Lithuania,” said Mr Auštrevičius.

Žalimas: the EC violated a fundamental rule of legal interpretation

Dainius Žalimas, former President of the Constitutional Court (CC) and lawyer, believes that the EC’s interpretation could now create new rules, which is a possible violation of certain principles of legal interpretation.

“The Commission cannot formulate rules that are not in the Regulation. It can clarify if ambiguities, uncertainties, and gaps can be filled.

The way I look at that interpretation is that, if we understand that interpretation – and this is the way most people understand it, and this is Lithuania’s position now, and the position of other countries in general – that when goods are transported by rail from one part of Russia to another part of Russia, the restrictions laid down in the Regulation does not apply.

In my view, the Commission has violated a fundamental rule of legal interpretation here, namely that it cannot formulate new rules that are not contained in the legal action being interpreted, in this case, the Regulation,” said Mr Žalimas.

Landsbergis: Ignoring the European Commission would be a “bad precedent for Lithuania”

The European Commission (EC) has the right to interpret sanctions against Russia by issuing specific explanatory notes, Foreign Minister Gabriel Landsbergis said.

“We received the first explanatory letters in early April. Based on them, we informed companies and authorities – companies imposed sanctions. The EC had the right to interpret in a different way – either to clarify or to explain its explanation. That is what they did. Again, in my view, if we are a country governed by the rule of law, which imposes sanctions based on legal interpretations, then we must also take into account when those interpretations are changed,” he stressed.

According to the Minister, if action is taken from the point of view of “liking or disliking what is written by the EC, it would set a bad precedent for Lithuania”.

“I stand by the fact that Lithuania has to comply with what is legally correct”, he stressed.

Individual EU states cannot interpret sanctions as this would create a dangerous precedent. Only the European Commission has the right to do so when commenting on its guidelines on the Kaliningrad transit, Landsbergis stressed.

“If we move into the political field of assessing sanctions, (…) then we take on I don’t know what responsibility or the other capital assumes some responsibility to interpret the sanctions in a way that suits them,” Landsbergis said on Friday at the Seimas.

He said that this would “open Pandora’s box”, as each country would be able to challenge the unfavourable sanctions’ provisions.

“It is not the right of capitals to interpret sanctions after they have been introduced. (…) The EC is the only one that can explain what has been introduced, how it should be applied,” the foreign minister said.

The head of Lithuanian diplomacy also said that he viewed negatively German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s public calls for the resumption of transit in Kaliningrad but insisted that he did not speculate whether Berlin had influenced the EC’s clarification this week.

The EC on Wednesday, in new guidelines, allowed Russia to transport sanctioned goods by rail to and from the Kaliningrad region via Lithuania for the needs of the exclave. Lithuania had suspended the transit of some Russian goods to Kaliningrad following the EU sanctions imposed on Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which it said was based on the previous EC guidelines that had banned transit.

Lithuanian and European Commission representatives have been consulting on new guidelines recently after Russia’s outcry over the suspension of steel transit in June.

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