The EU should sharpen its sanctions policy; implications for Finland have been relatively minor

In a world of intensifying geopolitical competition, the EU must sharpen its sanctions policy so that Europe can promote its values and defend its interests. Sanctions are among the toughest measures adopted by the Union in response to security threats and breaches of international norms, notes a study published today on the EU’s sanctions policy and its implications for Finland. The study was conducted by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) and ETLA Economic Research (ETLA).

The study identifies a qualitative change in the EU’s sanctions policy that has occurred over the last 10 years. Stronger, targeted economic sanctions against Iran and Russia demonstrated the EU’s strength in the face of grave security policy challenges. However, the increasingly unilateral and unpredictable sanctions policy of the US and the UK’s withdrawal from the EU pose challenges to this more forceful approach.

In response to these challenges, the new study recommends that the EU and its Member States make a determined effort to strengthen their sanctions policy capacities and to clarify the strategic nature of the instrument. Efforts to strengthen planning and decision-making, as well as the implementation of sanctions, should ensure the Member States’ ownership of the policy. This will also help in working towards EU unity, which is vital for major sanctions decisions.

Implications of the EU’s sanctions policy for Finland

Both the EU and Russia have attempted to curb the economic impact of sanctions through targeted measures. In light of research based on export statistics, the impact of the EU’s sanctions on Russia in relation to the Union’s exports was modest. The effect of the Russian import restrictions was significantly stronger, however, with the EU losing around five per cent of its goods exports to Russia.

According to the findings, the negative effects of Russia’s countermeasures on Finland have been smaller than average when compared to other states worldwide, although the toll on individual sectors that depend on the Russian market, such as the dairy industry, has been more significant.

The study argues that the EU’s sanctions policy is vitally important for smaller and more export-oriented Member States such as Finland. It serves to advance their key foreign policy goals, such as defending international norms and addressing threats to security. Effective EU action is also vital for mitigating the secondary effects of the US sanctions on Iran, and for delivering a joint response to the challenges posed by increased geopolitical competition.


The publication is part of the implementation of the Government’s Analysis, Assessment and Research Plan for 2019.

Sharpening EU sanctions policy for a geopolitical era


More information:

Programme Director Juha Jokela, Finnish Institute of International Affairs, +358 9 432 7730,

Researcher Birgitta Berg-Andersson, Etla, 044-465 0153,