The European Union must call out the Chinese regimes human rights abuses and must make decisions on sanctions more efficiently, The EUs chief executive said on Wednesday.
The European Commission, the EUs executive body, will come forward with a proposal for a European Magnitsky Act, which will enable the bloc to impose sanctions on human rights abusers around the world, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her first “State of the Union” speech.
“We must always call out human rights abuses whenever and wherever they occur—be it on Hong Kong or with the Uyghurs,” she said.
“But what holds us back? Why are even simple statements on EU values delayed, watered down, or held hostage for other motives?” she asked.
Currently, the EUs Common Foreign and Security Policy requires unanimity among all member states. As a result, EU policy on China has been repeatedly blocked by some small EU countries, such as Greece, Hungary, and Portugal, which can be easily swayed by Beijings influence.
Von der Leyen called for change to the decision-making process. “When Member States say Europe is too slow, I say to them: Be courageous and finally move to qualified majority voting—at least on human rights and sanctions implementation.”
Divide and Conquer
Under the proposed “qualified majority” rule, EU foreign policy proposals can be passed if 55 percent of member states vote in favor and it is supported by member states representing at least 65 percent of the total EU population.
This will prevent a small number of member states from blocking EU foreign policy, and address the EUs concerns over the Chinese regimes divide-and-conquer tactics.
In May, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell accused Beijing of “playing on” differences among EU member states.
Divisions within Europe have made it hard to adopt a unified strategy and response to challenges posed by China, according to a recent report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a London-based think tank.
Completing Our Toolbox
Von der Leyen made clear what she intended to achieve on the human rights front once the decision-making gridlock is solved.
“This House has called many times for a European Magnitsky Act—and I can announce that we will now come forward with a proposal,” she said.
EU officials and parliamentarians have long called for a European version of the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that punishes foreign officials suspected of human rights abuses by freezing their assets in the United States and banning them from U.S. soil.