Trade

EU sanctions message gets muddled over pipeline politics

The EU and many of its member countries are uneasy over U.S. sanctions policy — but efforts to express those views to Washington turned into a finger-pointing mess for the Europeans.

The problem is that EU countries are trying to defend their sovereignty against the U.S. without appearing to condone the political actions of Russia, their largest gas supplier. Thats made even more difficult by the reported poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which has put pressure on EU countries to respond.

The divided positions were starkly apparent in an attempted show of European unity on a diplomatic call with the U.S. State Department on August 12.

Nord Stream 2 — the Russia-to-Germany pipeline being built by Gazprom — was purposely not mentioned in the invitation to the EUs 27 member countries to discuss general sanctions policy, the European External Action Service said. The U.S. recently escalated its threats of “crushing” sanctions against any European business involved with the project.

The EU meeting started with a representative of the blocs delegation stating that EU policy considered extraterritorial sanctions to be a violation of international law — explicitly referencing the cases of U.S. sanctions on Iran, Cuba, the International Criminal Court and Nord Stream 2, according to minutes of the meeting seen by POLITICO.

Only three EU countries are listed in the minutes as having skipped the meeting: Hungary, Latvia and Romania. A POLITICO story written immediately after the meeting said Poland did not take part. The Polish embassy in Washington later clarified that it had attended the meeting.

“While it may not result in immediate changes in the US sanctions policy, the outreach was successful in showcasing great interest and concern by [member states] on the issue of escalating US sanction regimes,” the report added.

To démarche or not to démarche

That glowing analysis soon soured as news of the meeting went public two days later, and countries debated what, exactly, they had just participated in.

German officials from the Federal Foreign Office told business groups in Berlin that a 24-country démarche, or formal statement of government policy, had been transmitted to the Americans during the call. A German MP also used the word démarche in a letter sent to sanctions legislation co-sponsor U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

“Austria indeed participated in this diplomatic démarche,” said a spokesperson for Austrias foreign ministry.

Even Brussels was confused.

“We can confirm that a démarche was made on August 12th at the invitation of the EU delegation to the U.S. State Department of State on U.S. sanctions policy,” said an EU diplomat. “The démarche was based on the statement by the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell on U.S. sanctions. Twenty-four EU member states participated in the démarche, which took place via video conference.”

But another EU official called it “an informal démarche” because only 24 countries joined.

EU foreign affairs spokesperson Nabila Massrali then made it clear that a démarche can only happen if all EU countries back it.

“Démarches are a formal diplomatic tool that, at EU level, must be agreed beforehand by all EU member states,” she said, adding: “The outreach by the EU delegation was always intended as outreach, never as a démarche.”

Jonatan Vseviov, Estonias ambassador to the U.S., said participation in the meeting was no indicator of position — on sanctions or the pipeline.

“I cannot obviously speak on behalf of everybody else, but I can speak on behalf of Estonia, and I can assure you that we did not démarche the Americans, alone or together with anybody else, even though we were participating in that particular meeting,” Vseviov said. “There is no démarche that is sort of accidental — you just happen to be in the room when somebodys démarching somebody, then all of a sudden youre part of the démarche.”

He added that Estonias strong position against the pipeline had not changed, and that his country was happy with the current state of affairs of U.S. sanctions on the pipeline.

“Were not pushing for sanctions. Were opposing Nord Stream. That is an important distinction,” Vseviov added. “When it comes to how the U.S. executes or shapes its foreign policy, that obviously is a matter for the United States to decide.”

Polands ambassador to the EU, Andrzej Sadoś, said the issue of EU statements going farther than what its members are comfortable with is a problem.

“Any claims about a coordinated EU diplomatic action criticizing U.S. sanctions policy towards Nord Stream 2 are misleading,” Sadoś said. “A common EURead More – Source