The proposal would allow the EU to fight back against economic pressure

BRUSSELS – The European Union on Wednesday proposed new measures that would allow it to sanction parties seeking to influence its politi...


BRUSSELS – The European Union on Wednesday proposed new measures that would allow it to sanction parties seeking to influence its political policies through economic pressure, such as trade restrictions or the boycott of European products.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, proposed what it called an “anti-coercion instrument” over what it sees as unfair trade pressure, arguing that new tools were needed because of “the ‘arming trade for other geopolitical purposes’.

The proposed measures would give the commission broad powers to impose punitive sanctions on individuals, businesses and countries. The proposal includes tariffs and quotas; restriction of intellectual property rights; and limit access to the bloc’s financial markets, public procurement and EU-funded research programs.

Officials said the measures were necessary because the bloc had been the target of economic intimidation in recent years.

“The European Union will not hesitate to back down when we are threatened,” Valdis Dombrovskis, the bloc’s trade commissioner, told reporters on Wednesday, adding that the bloc “would stand firm in its defense”.

The measures would also limit the ability of each member country to veto retaliatory sanctions against third countries, which has often undermined the unity of the bloc. According to the committee’s proposal, sanctions could only be blocked by a majority of member countries, thereby bypassing the current unanimity requirement.

Mr. Dombrovskis cited a recent case concerning a dispute between Lithuania and China as an action in which Beijing’s actions could “clearly be a reason” for triggering the measures.

Lithuania, a member of the European Union, has accused Beijing of blocking imports of its products after Lithuanian authorities allowed Taiwan, which China considers to be part of its territory, to open a representative office in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, in November.

He added that “restricting or threatening to restrict gas supply as a tool to influence EU decision-making” could also be grounds for activating measures.

Belarusian President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko last month threatened to cut gas supplies to the European Union if the bloc imposed sanctions on his country for a migrant crisis on the border with Poland that officials of the ‘EU say they have orchestrated.

Jonathan Hackenbroich, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the European Union was also aware of the pressures it faced from the United States when led by President Donald J. Trump.

“The Trump experiment was one of the biggest shocks in recent years that influenced European thinking,” Hackenbroich said, referring to the President’s retaliatory steel and aluminum tariffs. Trump to certain European countries, as well as the consequent secondary sanctions. punitive American measures against Iran and Russia.

“Now, the thinking is mainly about China and Russia,” Hackenbroich said. “But what happened during the Trump years is still on the minds of Europeans.”

To become law, the proposal must be approved by the majority of member countries and by the European Parliament. It is likely to face opposition from some member countries, including Sweden and the Czech Republic, who fear the measures may violate World Trade Organization rules and be disproportionate.

Analysts say the measures could strengthen the bloc’s geopolitical clout, but carry the risk of escalating trade wars, instead of deterring them.

“The European Union has always claimed to be a strong supporter of multilateralism, so it needs to be very careful when designing such mechanisms,” said Fabian Zuleeg, director of the Brussels-based European Policy Center. “But the main thing is that from a European point of view, multilateral institutions are not capable of meeting such challenges. The European Union must therefore find parallel means of defending its values ​​and its interests.

One question, Zuleeg said, is how countries like China or the United States would react to the European Union’s disincentives.

“If you apply that to a country that is very powerful, and that has a lot of potential to then put in place countermeasures, which are justified from their point of view, then you can quickly find yourself in a very difficult situation that can escalate, “he said.

France, which will assume the EU presidency in January, said in a statement through its trade ministry that the proposed measures fill “a critical gap” and would constitute a step towards a “less naive trade policy” .

Most members of the European Parliament called for a more assertive stance on trade and foreign policy, and some welcomed the proposal.

Anna-Michelle Asimakopoulou of Parliament’s Trade Committee called it a “necessary and important tool” to “deter blackmail and unfair practices”.

Bernd Lange, chairman of Parliament’s trade committee, said it was important to have a broad definition of economic coercion, citing threats from the United States to tax digital businesses in France as another example. “This is not a license to kill,” he said. “It is about having the possibility to counter the measures of coercion.”

The US representation to the European Union declined to comment on the proposal.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The proposal would allow the EU to fight back against economic pressure
The proposal would allow the EU to fight back against economic pressure
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