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Committee reports on North Sea wind farms and human rights sanctions under the ‘EU Magnitsky Act’

9 February 2021

In its latest report, the European Scrutiny Committee considers recent approved and draft EU legislation and policy documents deposited in Parliament by the Government.

In most cases, the documents are accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum from the relevant Minister.

The Committee examines the legal and political significance of the documents, including for the UK, and where appropriate asks further questions of the Government about its implications. The Committee also has the power to recommend documents for debate.

Some of the more important and/or newsworthy items are, in summary:

BEIS – Offshore renewable energy cooperation

These EU documents are important because:

  • They relate to future cooperation between the UK and EU in the development of offshore renewable energy, particularly wind farms, as provided for in the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) that came into force on 1 January 2021.
  • The North Sea has a high potential for offshore energy renewables and is already the world’s leading region for deployed capacity and expertise in offshore wind.

The EU Commission has suggested that to develop offshore renewables in a cost-efficient and sustainable way, there should be cooperation between the various countries around the North Sea basin and the creation of an offshore grid linking wind farms to the national grids of several different countries.

The Commission has suggested changes to EU regulations for trans-European energy infrastructure that would create a new category of cooperation between at least one EU Member State and at least one third country (such as the UK). The cooperation category would be called ‘Projects of Mutual Interest’. It would require that the third country or countries would have a high degree of regulatory alignment with the EU, or convergence to support the overall policy objectives of the EU, and an energy system moving towards decarbonisation.

In an Explanatory Memorandum published 4 December 2020, the then-Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, welcomed the Commission’s suggested approach, which he said could be mutually beneficial. The Committee agrees with this.

The former Minister made his statement before the TCA was agreed. Therefore, the Committee has requested an update from his successor, Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, asking whether the Government is content for projects to be planned even if they require the UK to have regulatory alignment or convergence to support the overall policy objectives of the EU, and an energy system on its way to decarbonisation.

The Committee said it would be imperative, if cooperation were to ensue in the way envisaged above, that structures are now established to create links between the UK National Grid and the European Network of Transmissions Systems Operators for Electricity so that the UK can be engaged in offshore grid planning.

FCDO – The ‘EU Magnitsky Act’ - a sanctions regime against human rights abuses

These EU documents are important because:

  • They contain the legal framework for the EU’s version of the ‘Magnitsky Act,’ aimed at targeting perpetrators of human rights abuses worldwide. The Act is named after a similar law passed in the US aimed at punishing Russians allegedly involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered large-scale tax fraud. The EU law allows for the freezing of assets held in the EU by individuals subject to the sanctions and bans their travel through EU Member States.
  • The EU law may be used for the first time to impose sanctions against certain Russian individuals following the recent politically-motivated detention of the Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny. However, triggering the EU Magnitsky Act against specific individuals would require unanimity among all 27 Member States.

There are no direct legal implications for the UK flowing from the EU Magnitsky Act because it is no longer bound by EU legislation. However, the EU’s sanctions approach is likely to remain of wider geopolitical interest and relevance. The Committee expects Government to engage with the EU on a case-by-case basis where alignment of sanctions is in the UK’s wider interests. Where the EU and the UK impose similar sanctions, their effect could be amplified.

Further information

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