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Iran and the European Union in 2015

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Behzad Khoshandam
Ph.D. in International Relations & Expert on International Issues

From the viewpoint of Iran's foreign policy elites, the European Union (EU), as the most important global regional organization, enjoyed a remarkable status in the system of strategic and practical decisions as well as policymaking on Iran's international interactions in 2015.

During 2015, EU and Iran took basic and special steps toward improvement and promotion of their relations on the basis of “expedientism” and security seeking.” Basic steps taken by EU especially fell within framework of soft-power efforts made by EU and were result of pragmatic European diplomacy of EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, in convincing the P5+1 group to reach reconciliation with Iran, which was marked with such remarkable highlights as issuance of the Lausanne statement, achievement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and efforts made toward adoption and implementation of JCPOA.

Continuation of this intention and measure by EU led to diplomatic exchanges between high-ranking officials and ministers as well as trade, political and business delegations from Iran and Europe and as such, provided grounds for elevating the level of bilateral diplomatic and trade relations in 2015. Subsequently, and on the basis of a timetable and in line with the two sides’ obligations as per JCPOA, EU officially gave the green light to the removal of certain sanctions imposed on Tehran by the United Nations Security Council and in doing so, various EU institutions made efforts to lift some sanctions that had been imposed on Iran by EU on July 26, 2010.

The European Commission’s statistical body, Eurostat, has announced total trade exchanges between Iran and 28 members of the European Union in the first nine months of 2015 at 5.597 billion euros. Trade exchanges between Iran and EU grew six percent during the first nine months of 2015 compared to the corresponding period of the previous year. The value of bilateral trade during the first nine months of 2014 stood at 5.296 billion euros.

Another field in which EU demanded to cooperate with Iran in 2015 was the field of energy. Miguel Arias Cañete, a member of EU’s Energy and Climate Action Commission, met with representatives of major European energy companies, including REW AG, E.ON AG, the British Petroleum (BP), the Royal Dutch Shell, Repsol, Total, Engie, and Statoil and discussed with them the existing opportunities in Iran’s energy sector. EU expects Iran to turn into a major supplier of natural gas to this Union by 2030. The Wall Street Journal carried a report in this regard in September, noting that according to new estimates by EU, following the nuclear agreement, Iran is potentially able to turn into a major supplier of natural gas to EU by the end of the next decade. The European Commission believes that EU can import an annual amount of 25-35 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Iran by 2030. If these conditions are realized, the amount of Iranian gas exported to Europe would match the amount of gas that the European Union imports from North African countries and this issue will also reduce the Union’s dependence on the Russian gas.

One of the most prominent European officials to visit Tehran in 2015 and just four months after Iran's historic nuclear deal with the P5+1 group, was President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz. During his visit to Iran, Schulz called for cordial relations with Iran following the implementation of the nuclear deal. In his trip to Iran, he also tried to use that opportunity in order to overcome existing differences and bolster common interests with Iran. During their stay in Tehran, the president of the European Parliament and accompanying delegation met and conferred with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, speaker of Iran's parliament, Ali Larijani, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and chairman of the Iranian Judiciary’s Human Rights Committee Mohammad Javad Larijani. Schulz and Iranian parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, took part in a joint press conference after their meeting. Following his meeting with Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Schulz talked about the situation in Syria and about the political transition in Syria, noting that EU, Iran, Russia, the United States of America and Saudi Arabia can facilitate and expedite the political process in Syria. He emphasized that international dialogue had already gotten underway on Syria and could finally lead to an optimal solution for the crisis in the Arab country. The practical crystallization of this approach taken by EU was the official invitation of Iran by big powers to take part in strategic talks on Syria. Subsequent participation and influence of Iran in Vienna 1, and 2, and New York negotiations on Syria paved the way for all powers involved in this crisis to agree on the adoption of the Security Council Resolution 2254 based on what was called by the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as the roadmap and the “glimmer of hope” for Syria.

The refugee crisis and Turkey’s game with EU over refugees were among major highlights of 2015 for the European Union, which led to heated debates on the possible future action of EU with regard to such important global crises as Daesh, Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, the Middle East peace, and also with regard to regulation of EU’s ties with Turkey, Russia, Arab states, the United States, China, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Of special importance were terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, which marked a new beginning for EU’s serious attention to terrorist developments in the Middle East and brought into EU’s focus such important Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, as a stabilizing, security building and solution finding country.

One of the most important practical functions of the EU in 2015 was taking an approach to Iran's nuclear issue, which was oriented toward crisis management and founded on an expediency-based and security-building partnership with Iran in such important fields as trade, economy, industry and commerce. Practical diplomatic partnership and the purposive public diplomacy adopted by EU in an effort to achieve JCPOA was the most important and the most constructive practical step taken by this regional institution within framework of strategic and security architecture of the greater Middle East during the first 15 years of the third millennium up to 2015. From Iran's viewpoint, EU in 2015 was a major means of curtailing the United States hegemony in global politics and by taking effective advantage of this means, Iran did not fell a victim to the rivalry among big powers and did not become a chip for possible bargaining and agreements among these powers in their effort to regulate regional and global political equations in 2015.

Key WordsIran, European Union, 2015, StrategicDecisions, Soft-Power Efforts, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), United Nations Security Council, Sanctions, European Commission, European Parliament, Martin Schulz, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Political Equations, Syria, Turkey, Federica Mogherini, Khoshandam

More By Behzad Khoshandam:

*Iran and NATO in 2015: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran-and-NATO-in-2015.htm

*Iran's Nuclear Issue in 2015: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran-s-Nuclear-Issue-in-2015.htm

*Iran and Its Neighbors in 2015: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran-and-Its-Neighbors-in-2015.htm

*Photo Credit: EU Observer

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