On Thursday, the European Parliament agreed to add the violation of EU sanctions to a list of serious, cross-border crimes, paving the way for stronger enforcement.

Passed with 509 votes in favour, 58 against, and 19 abstaining, the change will allow the EU to adopt legislation on coordinating the definitions and punishments for such crimes across member states, ensuring that sanctions are effective and dissuasive everywhere in the Union. The aim is to make it harder to circumvent sanctions, and prevent “forum-shopping”, where individuals or companies seek out countries with the least restrictive legislation.

Currently, EU member states have different definitions for violations of EU restrictive measures (sanctions) against third countries, and varying punishments for these violations.

According to Article 83(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the EU can adopt common minimum standards for definitions and sanctions of certain crimes. After obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, the Council may decide to add new crimes to the list (which already includes terrorism, money laundering, and the trafficking of people, drugs and arms, among other things).

On Tuesday 5 July, the European Parliament plenary agreed to apply its urgency procedure to the current proposal, allowing for today’s consent vote during the same plenary session.

Now that the Parliament has approved the proposal, the Council can adopt it with a unanimous vote. Then, the European Commission can propose a directive on harmonised definitions and minimum punishments, which the Parliament and Council would then discuss according to the ordinary legislative procedure.