Just over a month ago, French President Emmanuel Macron pushed the limits of international diplomacy with his last-ditch appeal to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, by which he wrong-footed his European allies and was met with disapproval by the US President. Mr. Macron’s attempt to cultivate a personal bond with Trump showed him to have badly misjudged the US president, and if prior to Mr. Trump’s election, the EU’s influence on US policy was minimal, today it is non-existent.
Preserving the existing nuclear accord could serve as the cornerstone of a new, expanded deal that would address the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program and its destabilizing behavior across the Middle East that ran headlong into Trump’s competing instinct on foreign policy. Mr. Macron’s pitch caught fellow European powers off guard. A lack of coordination might have been a price worth paying if the US president had been persuaded to stick to the Iran accord but, failing that, Mr. Macron simply had no chance and his attempt had been doomed before he even arrived in Washington.
Europe now faces two challenges. First, can it forge a common foreign policy on Iran and the broader Middle East if France, Britain and Germany to a lesser extent continue to defend what they see as their own national interests? Second, whether Europe has the wit and the courage to recognize that its interests differ from those of the US and act accordingly. This is a dilemma, which its elites have been slow to face up to despite the huge fracture that opened up during the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
On the one hand, Europeans must keep up a two-way relationship with the more powerful United States; they must be careful not to only simply provide resources for its operations and step in afterwards to handle the consequences, without having any say in the decision-making. Europe’s minor role on the Palestinian issue but its key role in bankrolling the Palestinian Authority has long illustrated this point. Mr. Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem simply rubs salt into the European wound.
Forcing Europe to confront Iran, in alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia, which has bankrolled the rise of Salafi Islam – thus destabilizing many Muslim countries across the world, not least in North West Africa – risk marginalizing Europe even more in world affairs and denying its companies contracts in Iran. However, as such a confrontation plays out, it can only add to the flood of displaced people in a region blooded beyond recognition since 2011 and add to Sunni-Shi’a and inter Sunni tensions as it fuels the radicalization of young Muslims inside and outside Europe.
Last but not least, it hands Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, further tactical weapons against Europe in Ukraine and the Middle East. Meanwhile, the EU’s decision to give the go-ahead to the Nord-Stream 2 gas pipeline last month does nothing to decrease European dependence on Russian gas. To that end, the US’ move on Iran casts a harsh light on Europe’s vulnerability to Donald Trump’s America First approach. The US can use three types of tools on European business interests in Iran – fines, a ban on doing business in the US and blocking access to the US financial system and the dollar payment zone it mediates for companies involved in Iran and their bankers.
Europe needs to have a particular type of leverage over Iran much in the way the US has leverage over Europe; by providing financial connectivity with the rest of the world, as that would defy the US policy, which would be a really bold move, especially for Europe. Europe has never shown such wit, assertiveness, or any courage whatsoever and since it still claims that it has a foreign policy worthy of its economic weight, now is the time to put its words where its mouth is.
‘Will EU Dare Have a Real Foreign Policy?’ – Opinion by Francis Ghilès – Barcelona Centre for International Affairs / CIDOB.
(The Opinion can be downloaded here)