The European Union has refuted reports that it is considering sanctions on American polemist Tucker Carlson for his controversial interview with Vladimir Putin, recorded during his trip to Moscow.
On Wednesday, a flurry of conservative commentators falsely claimed the bloc was mulling slapping a travel ban on Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, after the Kremlin confirmed his sit-down with the Russian president had taken place. It marks Putin’s first interview with a Western reporter since he launched the all-out war on Ukraine.
The claim was initially reported by the American magazine Newsweek, based on comments made by a current and former Member of the European Parliament (MEP) who called on member states to consider sanctions on Carlson for acting as a “mouthpiece” and “propagandist” for Putin’s regime.
The remarks of the two lawmakers, who have no competence to propose or approve sanctions, were mistakenly associated with formal EU plans to target Carlson with restrictive measures, and amplified by X owner Elon Musk, who described the allegations as “disturbing” and a move that would “greatly offend the American public.” Musk’s post garnered over 25 million views.
On Thursday, Peter Stano, the European Commission’s spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, shut down the rampant speculation. “Currently there are no discussions in the relevant EU bodies linked to this specific person (…) the American person who is in Moscow,” he said.
But Stano underlined that the bloc is able to blacklist “propagandists” who have “a continued track record” of information manipulation aimed at undermining the “sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
The confusion was sparked by the comments of former Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt and former Spanish MEP Luis Garicano, both of the liberal Renew Europe group.
Verhofstadt said earlier this week on social media platform X that if Carlson “enables disinformation for Putin,” the EU should “explore” a travel ban.
Responding to Elon Musk’s remarks that EU measures against Carlson would “offend” the US public, Verhofstadt shared a photo of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich behind bars in Moscow, saying “this is what a real journalist in Russia looks like.”
“That should greatly offend the American people!” Verhofstadt said.
Musk’s platform X, formerly known as Twitter, is under the EU’s legal scrutiny for infringements of its digital rulebook, the Digital Services Act, relating to the spread of disinformation and illegal content.
No fact-checking community notes have been added to Newsweek’s original story.
How are EU sanctions decided?
Sanctions on individuals and companies are designed by the bloc’s diplomatic arm, the European External Action Service (EEAS), according to the danger they pose to the EU security, interests or fundamental values.
Discussions on sanctions are highly confidential and involve a great deal of bargaining between Brussels and the capitals until a final list is agreed upon.
In the past two years since the invasion of Ukraine, the bloc has adopted twelve rounds of sanctions against Russia, including travel bans and asset freezes on almost 2,000 individuals and entities, including banks, political parties and media organisations.
The blacklisted individuals encompass President Putin and a wide circle of his closest associates, ministers and oligarchs.
Stano said that sanctions, such as those on journalists and media outlets, can be proposed by governments who must then “back it up with evidence” before a decision can be adopted with the unanimous support of all 27 member states.
A raft of Kremlin-backed media organisations, such as Sputnik and Russia Today, can no longer be broadcast across EU territory as a result of restrictive measures.
Stano explained that Putin is a “chronic liar” and that information manipulation from the Kremlin and other state and non-state actors is directed at the EU.
Carlson interviewed Putin earlier on Tuesday, with the highly anticipated tête-à-tête expected to be broadcast later on Thursday.