By Payman Yazdani

EU suffers lack of unity to guarantee its interests: Russian expert

May 17, 2018 - 11:41

TEHRAN - Maria Khorolskaya a research fellow in Moscow based Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations says lack of unity among the EU member states is a main obstacle in the way of the Union to protect its interests against the U.S. unilateralism.

The U.S. president’s decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) despite the U.S. key European allies’ opposition has raised so many questions about the global weight of the EU.

Despite many promises from EU key states to keep the JCPOA alive without the U.S., many believe even if the EU decides to do so the block won’t be able to challenge the U.S. President’s decision due to its internal disunity and limitations.

To know more the issue was discussed with Maria Khorolskaya a research fellow in Moscow based Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

Here is the full text of the interview with her:

Q: How can the EU protect the right of its companies working and investing in Iran? Is it feasible?

A: American sanctions will affect not only the Iranian economy, but also foreign companies and banks that have business with Iran. A number of politicians, including the German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier, advocated for European support to firms that might suffer from U.S. sanctions. Europe already had a mechanism to counteract American sanctions. In 1996, during the conflict with the United States over the Cuban sanctions, the European Commission had already adopted a "blocking statute", which prohibited European companies to obey the requirements of third countries unless non-compliance would seriously damage their interests, and also stipulated reparation for campaigns at the expense of person, causing the damage. But “blocking statute” has to be adapted to the new situation, that would require a unanimous decision of all EU member states. The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pessimistically assessed the chances of German companies to continue their business in Iran. Later, Altmaier also noted that support of the affected businessmen from the state fund is impossible, but for export guarantees there is a proven Hermes cover, an export credit guarantee. But lack of sustained serious support measures can lead to the fact that the enterprises and banks will come to the conclusion that the American market is more important to them than the Iranian. It seems that European governments must find a solution that allows them to keep trade with Iran in order to convince Tehran that the deal is still beneficial for him.

Q: Despite being an economic superpower, the EU is not able to protect its interest against the U.S. unilateralism in recent years. Why?

A: The main reasons of it appear to be lack of unity on this issue among the member states of the EU, as well as the desire of the EU leaders to maintain their Atlantic ties.
Due to the fact that the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) countries, especially Poland and the Baltic states, are traditionally pro-American, they do not support the complication of relations with the U.S.

However, for Germany, the informal leader of European integration, Atlanticism remains important, which is explained by historical cooperation (The USA has been the main ally of West Germany since the end of World War II) and by economic ties (The EU has the largest volume of total trade with the U.S. For Germany, the U.S. is the first export destination and the 4th in terms of imports to Germany). Therefore, even after the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, U.S. threats to free trade, the breakdown of the Iran Nuclear deal and the incorrect demands of the U.S. ambassador to German, the German political forces except for the Left party, remain modest in criticizing of America. It seems that the German establishment hopes that after Trump’s end in office the relations with the U.S. will come out of the crisis. As the Free Democratic Party stated, criticism of Trump should not develop into anti-Americanism.

Q: The EU officials have been talking about independent EU over the recent years. Considering the existing facts and EU potentialities, how feasible it is? What are the obstacles to this end?

A: Despite Macron's proposals and Merkel's declaration that Europe needs to take on more responsibility, it seems that in the near future the EU will not be able to achieve independence. This is due to a number of reasons.
First, the European Union, as before, has not found a way out of its own crisis, which is manifested in the support of populist parties, the growth of Euroscepticism in the CEE countries.

It is still not clear which development strategy the EU will choose and how it will be implemented in the context of political and economic differences within the European Union.

Second, the EU still needs military support from the United States. The annual defense budget of the EU member states is 3 times smaller than the U.S. annual defense budget. The Pooling and Sharing and PESKO are only the first steps towards military integration. The European army is not on the agenda at the moment.

Third, as noted above, European countries do not seek complete independence from the United States. In the CEE countries, pro-Americanism is strong, as they see the United States as the only defense against Russia. All German political parties, with the exception of extreme leftist and rightist ones, in their programs stressed that European integration in the military sphere does not mean competition to NATO, but the creation of a European pillar of defense for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The idea of German parties that NATO should remain an instrument of intimidation, overcoming military conflicts, and the EU will ensure the maintenance of peace and stability in the region mainly by political and economic means also does not contribute to the strengthening of EU independence. Thus, although there has been an increase in the independence of the EU, which was contributed not only by D. Trump's actions, but also by G. W. Bush's policies and B. Obama's statements, this is a time-consuming process.

Q: How do you assess the Russia’s stance toward collapse of the JCPOA?

A: The collapse of the JCPOA is unprofitable for Russia, as Russia is concerned about further destabilizing the situation in the Middle East, as well as about restoring the Iranian nuclear program.  It seems that Russia's firm position for preserving the Iranian deal will allow it to prove itself in this matter as a reliable partner.