EU-Iran Relations: From nuclear non-proliferation to socio-economic cooperation?

Almost two years since the signing of the nuclear deal and in the aftermath of the re-election of President Rouhani, it is widely acknowledged that the EU has demonstrated its cumulative capacity to facilitate complex dispute settlement mechanisms while maintaining political dialogue with Iran since 2003. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the international community and Iran, seen as one of the most important achievements of EU diplomacy in recent years, would not have been reached without the European Union, said Tarja Cronberg, former MEP and now Distinguished Associate Fellow at SIPRI and author of Nuclear Multilateralism and Iran: Inside EU Negotiations (Routledge 2017), at a public seminar hosted by CEPS on June 6th. This view was shared by H.E. Mr. Peiman Seadat, Ambassador of Iran, and Pierre Vimont, Senior Fellow at Carnegie Europe. 

The EU’s current role in implementing the nuclear deal is straightforward. It has been outlined in Annex IV to the agreement, which assigns the High Representative a fairly modest role as coordinator of a Joint Commission tasked with monitoring implementation and as chair of two technical working groups (on procurement and on the lifting of sanctions). As such, the EU has preserved the facilitating role it carved out for itself during the negotiations leading up to the JCPOA. But success is not guaranteed.

The political will of the EU to develop new areas of cooperation with Iran will face the fallout and consequences of a hardened US position on Iran. While the US cannot unilaterally cancel the multilateral nuclear deal, it can make its implementation very difficult. The EU will have to choose between remaining a guardian of the deal, protecting the JCPOA from any interpretative drift, i.e. pollution from issues that do not fall under its remit, and confronting the US on Iran. This moment of truth will come sooner rather than later. It is therefore crucial that the EU define and protect its strategic interests for bilateral relations with Iran.