Belgium implements EU Blocking Regulation

The Belgian authorities are now competent to monitor and enforce compliance with the EU Blocking Regulation on US Cuba- and Iran-related sanctions and to apply administrative fines in case of breach [1]

What is the EU Blocking Regulation?

In response to the announcement by the United States on 8 May 2018 that the US would withdraw from the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran (the so-called “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” or “JCPOA”) and re-impose the US Iran-related sanctions that were lifted or suspended following the JCPOA, the EU reactivated the EU Blocking Regulation and amended its Annex to include the reinstated US secondary sanctions related to Iran (the ‘specified sanctions’).

In essence, the EU Blocking Regulation provides that EU operators [2] are obliged to inform the EU Commission when their economic and/or financial interests are affected by the specified sanctions (the ‘reporting obligation’) and aims to block the extra-territorial effect of the specified sanctions by prohibiting EU operators from complying with them. It also allows EU operators to recover damages arising from these specified sanctions from the persons causing them and nullifies the effect in the EU of any foreign court rulings based thereon.

More information on the EU Blocking Regulation is available here.

Belgian Implementation of the EU Blocking Regulation

Competent authorities

The Belgian Federal Public Service for Foreign Affairs now is the competent authority in view of Belgium’s obligation to inform the EU Commission of any information it receives from EU operators within the context of the reporting obligation and of any measures taken under the EU Blocking Regulation.

The Belgian Federal Public Services for Finance and for the Economy are competent to monitor compliance in Belgium by EU operators with the reporting obligation and the prohibition to observe the specified sanctions.

Administrative fines

Importantly, for breaches in Belgium of the EU Blocking Regulation, the relevant Minister (of Finance or Economy) may now impose administrative fines on “the infringer(s) and, where appropriate, one or more members of its executive board, of its executive committee, or if there is no executive board or committee, on the effective managers, responsible for the infringements”.

For legal entities, the administrative fine ranges from 10,000 euro to 10% of the entity’s annual net turnover of the previous business year. For individuals, the fine ranges from 250 euro to 5,000,000 euro. The actual amount of the fine is decided taking into account the seriousness and duration of the breach, the responsibility of the infringer, the infringer’s financial strength, the benefit or advantage obtained through the breach, the damages caused, any prior and the infringer’s willingness to cooperate with the authorities.

Changes to the law of 13 May 2003

The outdated references in the law of 13 May 2003 regarding the enforcement of restrictive measures to the Treaty establishing the European Community are updated in order to take into account the corresponding new references to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (the ‘TFEU’).

Instead of the existing criminal sanctions that the Belgian criminal authorities may impose by virtue of the law of 13 May 2003 in case of breaches of the EU sanctions regulations that are taken within the framework of Articles 75, 215 and 352 of the TFEU, also administrative fines ranging from 250 euro to 2,500,000 euro may now be imposed for such type of breaches.

[1] Title VII of the Belgian omnibus law of 2 May 2019 including various financial provisions, which was published today in the Belgian Official Gazette, implements in Belgium the EU Blocking Regulation 2271/96 of 22 November 1996, Belgian Official Gazette, 21 May 2019.
[2] EU operators are (i) any natural person being a resident in the Community, and a national of a Member State, (ii) any legal person incorporated within the Community,(iii) any natural or legal person referred to in Article 1 (2) of Regulation (EEC) No 4055/86, (iv) any other natural person being a resident in the Community, unless that person is in the country of which he is a national, and (v) any other natural person within the Community, including its territorial waters and air space and in any aircraft or on any vessel under the jurisdiction or control of a Member State, acting in a professional capacity.