Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

ECPR Futures Lab 2020

Designing Sanctions: The European Union in Regional and International Affairs

International relations
European Union
Workshop Number
Workshop Director
Katharina Meissner
University of Vienna
Workshop Co-Director
Clara Portela
University of Valencia

The European Union (EU) is at the forefront of including conditionality clauses in its international agreements, and it increasingly turns to sanctions in responding to both external and internal challenges. In the wake of unsettling conflicts in its neighbourhood, sanctions have become an important tool in external relations (Kreutz 2015; Portela 2010; Richter and Wunsch 2019). Currently, the EU has 38 sanctions regimes in force against third actors. Moreover, sanctions can be imposed to address democratic backsliding in its member states (Hellquist 2018).

At the same time, EU sanctions appear in different designs. Sanctions encompass diplomatic measures, conditionality clauses, non-economic sanctions such as travel bans, financial bans or various forms of economic restrictions (Drury 2001). The EU makes use of the entire toolbox in its foreign policy. Recent research identifies the design of sanctions “to be key to their outcomes” (McLean and Whang 2014, 590). Yet, to date, scholarship has provided no systematic investigation into the design of EU restrictive measures. On top of this, there is an absence of debate between different strands in the literature on EU sanctions: while research on EU restrictive measures under Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) speaks to scholarship on conditionality clauses in development and trade policy (e.g. Portela 2010; Koch 2015), interaction with literature on conditionality in the EU’s enlargement (e.g. Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 2004) let alone sanctions under Article 7 is remarkably scarce (e.g. Hellquist 2018).

Our ECPR Joint Sessions Workshop on ‘Designing sanctions’ seeks to remedy these research gaps by investigating systematically the design of EU sanctions used in its external and internal affairs. We understand sanctions broadly as a “temporary abrogation of normal state-to-state relations to pressure target states [or domestic groups] into changing specified policies or modifying behaviour in suggested directions” (Tostensen and Bull 2002, 374). Hence, our understanding of sanctions is indiscriminate to the target – being located within or outside the EU – as well as to the concrete measure of abrogating ‘normal’ relations. Sanctions, according to our notion, cover CFSP restrictive measures, conditionality clauses, aid freezes, withdrawal of trade preferences for political reasons, diplomatic sanctions, and measures under Article 7. In this sense, our conceptualization of sanctions in this workshop goes beyond the narrowly-defined CFSP area (e.g. Giumelli 2011) and extends to development and trade policy (e.g. Meissner and McKenzie 2018), democratic backsliding (e.g. Sedelmeier 2017) as well as other internal policies such as conditionality as part of the Greek bailout in the Economic and Monetary Union. The workshop is scientifically innovative in that it expands the definition of EU sanctions to measures produced under different guises in separate policy fields. It thereby represents an attempt to overcome the compartmentalised approach that EU scholarship has displayed so far, with development researchers looking into aid suspensions, trade researchers looking into conditionality in international agreements, international security scholars looking into CFSP sanctions, etc. This approach allows us to engage in a comparative analysis of sanctions design, a key yet neglected determinant of sanctions efficacy.

Understanding drivers of sanctions’ design matters from an analytical perspective and is also politically relevant. From an analytical perspective, a large majority of research on EU restrictive measures examines their (in-)effectiveness and consequences for target states (e.g. Hufbauer et al. 2007), while being oblivious to how this is linked to their design and the very drivers of design options (exceptions are McLean and Whang 2014; Portela 2016). We find identical dynamics in literature on EU enlargement conditionality, where scholars establish enabling factors and hindrances to conditionality effectiveness (e.g. Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeier 2004). Hence, there is a lack of fine-grained investigation into the concrete design of EU sanctions; and what factors motivate such design decisions. In addition, from a normative perspective it is pertinent to understand in what way the EU designs sanctions in its various policies. This becomes evident with the discussion revolving around Article 7 sanctions which are considered ill-equipped to trigger the EU’s anticipated change in political behaviour in Hungary or Poland. Optimizing the design of such measures can help improve their effectiveness.

The workshop welcomes a variety of analytical perspectives and methodological approaches on sanctions in order to investigate drivers, consequences, and effectiveness of their designs. The goals of our workshop are to (a) provide a systematic investigation into and perspective on the varying designs of EU sanctions and their implications, and (b) to work towards a special issue proposal for an EU or International Relations journal.

Drury, A. C. (2001): Sanctions as Coercive Diplomacy: The U.S. President’s Decision to Initiate Economic Sanctions. Political Research Quarterly 54(3): 485-508.
Giumelli, F. (2011): coercing, constraining and signalling: explaining un and eu sanctions after the cold war. Colchester, ECPR Press.
Hellquist, E. (2018): Ostracism and the EU’s contradictory approach to sanctions at home and abroad, Contemporary Politics [online first].
Hufbauer, G. et al. (2007): Economic sanctions reconsidered. Washington DC, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Kreutz, J. (2015): Human Rights, Geostrategy, and EU Foreign Policy, 1989-2008. International Organization 69(1): 195-217.
Koch, S. (2015): A typology of political conditionality beyond aid: conceptual horizons based on lessons from the European Union, World Development 75/2015, 98-108
McLean, E. V. and T. Whang (2014): Designing foreign policy: Voters, special interest groups, and economic sanctions. Journal of Peace Research 51(5): 589-602.
Meissner, K. L. and McKenzie, L. (2018): The paradox of human rights conditionality in EU trade policy: when strategic interests drive policy outcomes. Journal of European Public Policy [online first].
Portela, C. (2010): European Union Sanctions and Foreign Policy: When and why do they work. Oxon, Routledge.
Portela, C. (2016): Are European Union sanctions “targeted”? Cambridge Review of International Affairs 29(3): 912-929.
Richter, S. and Wunsch, N. (2019): Money, Power, Glory? The linkage between EU conditionality and informal politics in the Western Balkans. Journal of European Public Policy, [online first].
Schimmelfennig, F. and Sedelmeier, U. (2004): Governance by conditionality: EU rule transfer to the candidate countries of central and Eastern Europe. Journal of European Public Policy 11(4): 661-679.
Sedelmeier, U. (2017): Political safeguards against democratic backsliding in the EU: the limits of material sanctions and the scope of social pressure. Journal of European Public Policy 24(3): 337-351.
Tostensen, A. and Bull, B. (2002): Are Smart Sanctions Feasible? World Politics 54(3): 373-403.

Share this page

Back to top