Brussels has fired back at the new US sanctions against Russia, saying an “America first” approach does not mean EU interests can come last. Germany and France have also voiced their opposition to the new set of sanctions.
In a harshly-worded statement, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, lashed out at Washington saying “America first cannot mean that Europe's interests come last.”
He added the commission “concluded today that if our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days.”
The EU’s legislative body also argued the sanctions “could affect infrastructure transporting energy resources to Europe, for instance the maintenance and upgrade of pipelines in Russia that feed the Ukraine gas transit system,” according to a press release.
The sanctions bill has also caused a stir in Berlin.
"This concerns not only German industry … Sanctions against Russia should not become a tool of industrial policy [pursued] in the US interests," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told a news conference on Wednesday, as cited by Sputnik.
“In our opinion, it is not in the Americans’ right to judge or stipulate which way European companies may engage in cooperation with any third parties – particularly, with Russian energy companies,” Schaefer said.
Speaking at the same briefing, government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer added Berlin believes “the European industry should not become the target of US sanctions.”
She noted it was crucial “to continue close coordination between the US and the EU in the sanctions policy toward Russia.”
France has said the sanctions “contradict international law” due to their “extraterritorial reach,” according to a statement by the French Foreign Ministry.
“This bill, if it comes into force, would allow measures against European natural or juridical persons for situations that have no connection with the United States,” the statement read.
French and EU laws would need to be adjusted in response to the sanctions, she said, adding that discussions should be held at European Union level.
“To protect ourselves against the extraterritorial effects of US legislation [or any other legislation], we need to work to amend national legislation and perfect EU measures,” according to the statement.
The officials were commenting on the latest package of anti-Russian sanctions voted into law on Tuesday by the US House of Representatives.
The restrictions, which come as part of a bill imposing sweeping sanctions also on Iran and North Korea, target Russia’s major defense, mining, shipping and railway industries.
They also include penalties on European companies engaged in joint EU-Russia energy projects, with the Gazprom-run Nord Stream 2 flagship pipeline being the most probable target of renewed sanctions.
Some media reports suggested Brussels was preparing countermeasures in the event that the sanctions enter into force after being signed by the US president.
Should that happen, the EU will stand ready to act immediately, according to the Financial Times.
On Monday, the newspaper wrote that the European Commission had drafted an internal memo outlining possible options on the US sanctions, including invoking a ‘Blocking Statute,’ an EU regulation that limits extraterritorial US jurisdiction in Europe, as well as triggering a number of “WTO-compliant retaliatory measures.”
Moscow maintains the US sanctions are being imposed at the expense of European businesses.
“There is very serious pressure from the US on European companies,” Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti on Wednesday.
He asserted the restrictions cannot inflict substantial damage on Russia.
“Our macroeconomic policy is shaped in such a way so that sanctions-related shockwaves coming from outside do not have significant impact on the Russian economy,” he said.
Some experts, however, doubted the EU's readiness to go against its transatlantic ally.
“I’m not sure if the European Union has courage to take actions against this,” Dan Kovalik, an American labor rights lawyer, said.
“I’m worried that the US is able to impose the sanctions notwithstanding the EU opposition to it.”
"I’m sure this is not about protecting democracy, either the US democracy or someone else’s.
This is more about the US wanting more of a share of markets in Europe for its natural gas,” Kovalik added.
“These sanctions, which would be made permanent … are really tantamount to a declaration of war against these countries, particularly Russia.”
He said the measure is likely to diminish any progress made by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg, as the US may be “forced into a more adversarial relationship with Russia.”