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The steady stream of EU sanctions against Russia continues. While commentators are hoping for a swift, clean blow to the Kremlin in the form of a gas and oil import ban, EU leaders have opted for a piecemeal approach – more Chinese water torture than firing squad.
The latest offering announced on Friday (8 April), the fifth such round of sanctions, sees a ban on Russian coal and the prohibition of Russian-flagged ships from docking at EU ports. Russian and Belarusian road transport operators are also banned from working in the EU.
Additionally, there is a freeze on the export of transport equipment, including jet fuel. This complements the bloc-wide airspace ban on Russian aircraft in place since late February.
When it comes to shipping and freight, the ban is not absolute, however – lawmakers included exemptions for “medical, food, energy, and humanitarian purposes”.
This means that Russian ships containing crude oil are more than welcome to offload at EU docks; ships loaded up with vodka and caviar, however, must return home.
“Our focus is clear – we are not targeting ordinary Russian people. We are targeting the Kremlin, the political and economic elites supporting Putin’s war in Ukraine,” said EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell (of course, a ban on caviar and high-end Russian spirits is also likely to hit the EU’s elite).
So, what of banning Russian oil and gas, the lifeblood of the Russian economy and the chief instrument through which Russia funds the invasion of Ukraine? Plans are in the works, according to EU officials, at least for oil.
As fresh horrors in Bucha and Mariupol come to light, pressure to impose energy sanctions is mounting. Each day of delay sees euros flow into the Russian war machine.
However, EU countries are far from united on the issue of Russian oil. While some, including the Netherlands, Ireland, and Lithuania, push for oil sanctions, others have yet to be convinced.
Germany is among those fretting over the potential cost such a ban would entail. The EU’s economic powerhouse is highly exposed to Russian energy shocks, having become reliant on Moscow’s fossil fuels.
Unsurprisingly, Germany’s reluctance to suffer economic pain to correct a past mistake has provoked anger among member states who saw their economies collapse during the European debt crisis.
They recall the German-led insistence during the financial crisis of the previous decade on rapid and deep cuts to public spending as a necessary tonic to profligate spending (or in the case of Ireland, the public assuming vast amounts of private banking debt).
Calls to mitigate the economic hit by spreading it out were dismissed. “There is a trade-off between short-term pain and long-term gain,” then-finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble wrote in the Financial Times in 2011.
The economic misery, the shuttering of businesses, and wide-scale migration were written off as unfortunate side-effects of the need to quickly right the economic ship.
Now Germany finds itself faced with a situation as unpalatable as that endured by the so-called “PIIGS” of Europe a decade ago.
The next round of sanctions will be telling. For the EU to keep its title as a peace project, a ban on the shipping of caviar and vodka should be little more than a prelude – an oil ban will hit Putin where it hurts.
Today’s edition is powered by CITA.
“Safe and Clean Road Transport. Always. Everywhere.”
This is the theme of the next CITA International Conference scheduled for 8 and 9 June 2022 in Brussels.
The event is a unique opportunity to meet policymakers, national & international Administrations, Ministries, law makers, vehicle roadworthiness operators, equipment manufacturers, international experts and specialists of all fields of vehicle continuous compliance, both from the governmental and from the private side.
Young people invited to discover Europe
The Brexit saga revealed a lot about the mentality of the United Kingdom. One thing that became clear early in the debate is that many Brits do not see themselves as European.
To them, “Europe” is an entirely foreign place. Indeed, for many Brexiteers, any claims to a common European mindset, one based on shared values, is a myth.
While the extent may vary, it is highly likely that this is not exclusive to the UK. Many citizens in EU member states likely see themselves through a national lens, with “European” far down the list of descriptors.
Given this, how can the EU, a project dedicated to fostering “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”, create a sense of being European in addition to being part of a nation-state?
One answer seems to be travel. Specifically, train travel.
Last Thursday (7 April) saw the European Commission open applications for free DiscoverEU passes, which will allow 18-year-olds to explore Europe by train.
The EU is giving away a total of 70,000 tickets split between two rounds. Those born between 1 July 2003 and 30 June 2004 are eligible to apply for the current round, which runs until noon on 21 April. The next round will open in October.
“Our aim is to give as many young people as possible the chance to travel, discover new places and make life-lasting encounters,” said Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for youth.
The relaunch of the interrail scheme follows a lengthy hiatus driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, and comes amid the “European Year of Youth”.
Applications can be completed online.
EU blacklists Russian airlines
The EU has added 21 Russian-certified airlines to a list of companies banned from flying in the EU due to “serious safety concerns”.
Under EU sanctions, the bloc’s multi-billion-euro aircraft leasing sector is no longer permitted to provide aircraft to Russian companies, nor to certify the airworthiness of the aircraft. US and EU aircraft manufacturers have also blocked access to spare parts needed for aircraft maintenance.
In response, Russia passed a law allowing foreign-leased airlines to be added to the country’s aircraft register, enabling them to be issued with local safety certificates – a move contrary to international norms.
“The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency has allowed Russian airlines to operate hundreds of foreign-owned aircraft without a valid Certificate of Airworthiness. The Russian airlines concerned have knowingly done so in breach of relevant international safety standards,” said EU Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean, explaining the decision.
Vălean stressed that this is not a political decision but was rather taken on the grounds of safety.
“I want to make it crystal-clear that this decision is not another sanction against Russia; it has been taken solely on the basis of technical and safety grounds. We do not mix safety with politics,” she said.
The immediate effects of the blacklist are likely to be of little concern to Russian airlines, which are already prohibited from entering EU airspace under political sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine.
A total of 117 airlines are banned from EU skies due to inadequate safety oversight.
The European Union’s executive is drafting proposals for an EU oil embargo on Russia, the foreign ministers of Ireland, Lithuania and the Netherlands said on Monday (11 April), although there is still no agreement to ban Russian crude.
The European Commission has opened applications for free DiscoverEU passes, which will allow 70,000 18-year-olds to explore Europe by train.
The war in Ukraine has reignited the “food vs fuel” argument surrounding crop-based biofuels, with allegations that the EU’s demand for ethanol and biodiesel exacerbates food security concerns. The biofuels industry has branded the claims “ridiculous”.
The European Commission put forward a series of proposals to rein in shipping emissions as part of the “Fit for 55” legislative package. However, these proposals must be urgently strengthened if Europe is to achieve zero-emission shipping, write leaders from the Getting to Zero Coalition.