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An essential foreign policy tool

Restrictive measures or 'sanctions' are an essential foreign policy tool of the EU in pursuing its objectives in accordance with the principles of the Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP). 

In general terms, restrictive measures are imposed to bring about a change in policy or conduct by the targeted country, part of a country, or its government, or entities or individuals with a view to promoting the objectives of the CFSP.

Key objectives when adopting sanctions 

  • safeguarding EU's values, fundamental interests, and security
  • preserving peace
  • consolidating and supporting democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the principles of international law
  • preventing conflicts and strengthening international security, etc. 

Restrictive measures are used by the EU as part of an integrated and comprehensive policy approach involving political dialogue, complementary efforts and other instruments at its disposal.  

In recent years, the EU has frequently imposed:

  • restrictive measures on its own initiative
  • in order to implement UN Security Council Resolutions  

Compliance with international law

Considering that respect for international law is one of the stated principles of the CFSP, all restrictive measures adopted by the EU are fully compliant with obligations under international law, including those pertaining to human rights and fundamental freedoms.

A whole range of restrictive measures

The EU takes a targeted and differentiated approach to restrictive measures.

They are developed to minimise adverse consequences for those not responsible for the policies or actions that have prompted the adoption of sanctions, in particular by minimising the effects on the local civilian population or legitimate activities in or with the country concerned. 

Therefore, the Council can decide to adopt a set of different restrictive measures.

Sanctions in a broader sense

They include "diplomatic sanctions" such as the interruption of diplomatic relations with the targeted country or the coordinated recall of diplomatic representatives of the EU and its member states. 

Sanctions in a narrower sense 

  • arms embargoes
  • restrictions on admission of listed persons
  • freezing of assets belonging to listed persons or entities
  • different forms of economic sanctions (restrictions concerning different sectors of economic activity: import or export bans on certain goods, investment bans, prohibitions on supplying certain services etc.) 

These "narrower" sanctions require a specific legal base in the EU Treaties. 

All enforced EU restrictive measures 

Restrictive measures guidelines

In 2004, the Political and Security Committee agreed some basic principles on:

  • the use of sanctions
  • their implementation
  • the measuring and controlling of their impact 

These basic principles are included in the "guidelines on the implementation and evaluation of restrictive measures" first adopted by the Council in 2003 and reviewed and updated in 2005, 2009 and 2012. 

About the Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP) 

Pursuant to the Treaty on European Union (TEU), the Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP) covers all areas of foreign policy and all questions in relation to the European Union's security

Rules and procedures of the CFSP 

The European Council:

  • identifies the EU's strategic interests
  • determines the objectives of and defines general guidelines for the CFSP 

The Council of the EU is responsible for its definition and implementation.

The CFSP is put into effect by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR) and by the member states.

The Council and the HR ensure the unity, consistency and effectiveness of action by the European Union.