The European Union, despite all its flaws, has done much for promoting change in the world. The shared vision of a rule of law, upholding a single, glorious free market has led to reforms in dozens of countries that has, on paper at least, been a positive step in the strive for equality and human rights.
The ‘members only’ club that Europe has styled itself as has prompted nations on the edges of Europe to tighten up legislation to improve links to wealthier nations. It has helped nations like Georgia and Armenia decriminalise homosexuality, for example, and has helped greater Europe to share an almost uniformed approach to many policies.
The union has also helped nations join in punishing those who do wrong in the world. That, at least in theory, is what the sanction is for.
Europe, as a body, is joined by a marriage of law and economy. But this is an unequal marriage, one in which the European market takes precedence over the secondary concerns of freedom, equality and peace.
Economic sanctions have therefore become Europe’s most powerful tool in leveraging power. When the market is the most valued treasure Europe becomes the gatekeepers of commerce, deciding who can and cannot share the wealth.
Earlier this month European leaders confirmed that sanctions would not be lifted on Russia until positive actions were taken in Ukraine. Europe is set on its attempts to punish Putin and so restrictions must continue. This, however, comes after many experts continue to assert that sanctions on Russia are negatively impacting on the wrong people.
And this is a concern not just held by Russians. All across the world the ordinary citizens of several nations continue to claim that economic sanctions on their country do nothing but punish those who have no power at all. It is a well-documented concern seen in all sanctioned countries, especially those in the developing world.
The question therefore should be raised as to whether or not economic sanctions are a fair way of encouraging reform.
One case study that may argue they are not would be that of Zimbabwe. Under President Robert Mugabe’s rule Europe imposed numerous sanctions, which continued until almost all ties between Europe and one of the once-most prosperous African nations disappeared. Political pressure continued, further sanctions were enforced but the regime continued, growing more isolated as it did.
Some have argued in the case of Zimbabwe, and many other countries, that starving a nation of economic ties may even contribute to propping up the current regime. It is a complicated form discussion, with no black and white areas – proving that sanctions are a complete non-science. Whether or not sanctions are the ‘right’ thing to do is not a question easy answered, but in many cases the question of their effectiveness is perhaps more obvious.
This leads also to a further question, one that is being discussed more as people begin to examine Europe’s ties with some of their more questionable allies.
Why, if the purpose of sanctions is to punish or promote change, do some regimes get a pass on their behaviour? If sanctions are meant truly to target the ‘bad guys’ worldwide then why do well-documented human rights abusers, repressive censors and violent regimes continue to go unpunished?
The answer to most of these questions present itself easily when you phrase it a little differently. Why, for example, is key oil partner Azerbaijan allowed to continue an oppressive crackdown on free speech without any reprisals?
Europe in its strive to build the ultimate free market has given itself the tools for political leverage, as well as its biggest flaw. When economy is the key is the biggest concern leverage goes both ways, and as it stands European sanctions continue to seemingly punish the ‘little guy’ while those with the right kind of money or power continue unpunished.
Therefore we should ask ourselves; are sanctions a fair tool for progressive change? Or are they an outdated method that is ineffective at best? Will economy always be the most important leverage? Or should Europe strive for real change, regardless of the economic consequences it may incur?
Tom Ana is a charity worker and blogger from England with an interest in human rights and LGBT issues. He is the editor of Euroclash!. You can follow him on Twitter here!