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EU weighs sanctions on Niger as Gabon hit by latest coup

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TOLEDO, Spain — The European Union is considering sanctions on Niger, a document seen by POLITICO shows.

Defense and foreign ministers are discussing the possibility of sanctions at an informal summit in Toledo, Spain, after military forces in Niger last month deposed President Mohamed Bazoum, who was democratically elected in 2021. News also broke Wednesday that military officers in Gabon seized power in a fresh African putsch.

Gabon and Niger follow Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Chad as the latest African countries where the army has in recent years seized control; all of these countries are former French colonies

Speaking to journalists ahead of the meeting, top EU diplomat Josep Borrell said that the Niger coup could “increase instability in the whole region.” He stressed that during the two-day meeting, ministers will need to “have a deep thought on what is going on there” with the spate of coups in the region.

Ahead of the gathering, the European External Action Service — the EU’s diplomatic body, or EEAS — circulated an unofficial document with the title “EEAS non-paper on possible EU restrictive measures in view of the situation in Niger.” Seen by POLITICO, it was prepared after EU countries in early August expressed support for restrictive measures. Reuters previously reported that the EU had been preparing sanctions.

The document also said that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent a letter to Borrell seeking sanctions against the leaders of the coup d’état. ECOWAS is taking a two-track approach involving diplomacy and a military option, while the African Union has taken “a more prudent stance,” the document stressed.  

Siemtje Möller, parliamentary state secretary at Germany’s defense ministry, told reporters at the Toledo meeting: “At the moment, a political solution to the crisis is the focus. Intervention or support for troops is not the topic of consultation.”

The document recommends establishing an autonomous EU regime based on criteria targeting “natural and legal persons being responsible for, or providing support to or having engaged directly or indirectly in actions or policies that undermine democracy and the rule of law in Niger.” It also suggests targeting officials that “obstruct or undermine efforts to restore the constitutional order.” 

But it also recommends a gradual approach: “We could envisage adopting a sanctions framework first without any listings” — meaning an empty framework where names can then be adopted. “This would send a clear political signal that the EU is ready to react,” the EEAS wrote.

Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries, so the EEAS also proposed a humanitarian exception making funds and economic resources available since “sanctions may have unintended consequences for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

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