A high-level EU delegation led by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, will visit Iran during the upcoming weekend (16-17 April). The aim of the visit is to explore different sectors of cooperation with Iran and follow on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed in Vienna in July 2015, which offered the prospect for improved and expanded EU-Iran bilateral relations. There are a great variety of topics on the agenda including economy, energy, nuclear cooperation, environment but also the most pressing contemporary issues such as migration and humanitarian aid. The EU will also touch upon the controversial issue of human rights.
The JCPOA came into force in mid-January this year, which means that a UN nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran had implemented its nuclear related commitments and that the international organizations and world powers would lift their nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions. Following its implementation, Iran’s President Rouhani visited Italy and France, as both countries were its major trade partners before the sanctions were tightened in 2010 and 2012.
Since the JCPOA was finalized, both sides have been working on improving their relations especially given the fact that the EU-Iran economic relations had suffered more following the UN resolutions against Teheran than the US-Iran relations. The EU was, for example, Iran’s top trading partner until China overtook it in 2010. However, the focus on the nuclear program had prevented the EU from formulating a cohesive Iran strategy that also factored in human rights, regional issues and energy.
Punitive measures against Iran ceased to be a political tool for Europe because they became both the EU’s strategy and policy on Iran. The array of sanctions imposed under four UN resolutions since 2006 progressively moved toward a containment policy. For Europe, they were moreover effectively irreversible without US approval. From that perspective, the EU basically lost any influence on Iran.