Europe aims to protect its position in Iran

Measures in force could make it easier for companies like French major Total to stay invested in the Iranian energy sector.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  June 6, 2018 at 10:26 AM
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June 6 (UPI) -- The European Commission said Wednesday it was moving forward with a measure to protect companies possibly trying to invest in the Iranian energy sector.

U.S. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the agreement May 8, meaning U.S. sanctions pressures could force the deal to collapse without effective counter measures. The May 8 announcement set a 180-day clock ticking for Iranian oil and gas clients to find new options or face U.S. pressures.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker after Trump's announcement said there was a unified position in Europe that respecting the U.N.-backed agreement with Iran was essential for peace. So long as Iran upholds its end of the bargain, European powers will stay in the deal, he said.

By Aug. 6, when the first set of U.S. sanctions go into force, European companies could be protected by blocking statutes that allow them to recover damages and nullifies the effect of any judgment imposed by a foreign court.

On Wednesday, the commission said it adopted the statute that adds provisions for Iranian outreach through the European Investment Bank.

"This enabling measure does not however commit the EIB to actually support projects in Iran as it remains for the EIB's governing bodies to decide to take up such financing activities -- in line with relevant rules and procedures," the commission's statement read.

Barring objections, the commission said the measures would be in force by August.

Without relief, French supermajor Total was among the European companies that said it would have to leave Iran. Speaking last month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a U.S. think tank, Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné said the U.S. decision could put the advantage in the hands of U.S. adversaries.

"What would be not good neither for the U.S., nor for Europe, is if that at the end only Russia and China can do business in Iran," he said at the time.

The European Commission's announcement followed comments from Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French minister of European and Foreign Affairs, who said it was incumbent upon European members to keep the deal in place.

Le Drian said European parties have looked to 1990s rules that would protect French and other European companies from U.S. pressure. A financial mechanism that's "immune" to the U.S. dollar would secure European financial interests in Iran and ensure its oil can still be exported, he said.

U.S. sanctions pressures could pull about 1 million barrels of Iranian oil off the market by the end of the year. With the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries coordinating on voluntary production cuts, the loss of Iranian barrels could put the global oil market in a deficit.

Elsewhere, the European Commission said it endorsed a decision to impose duties on imported U.S. goods in response to Trump's decision to impose stiff aluminum and steel tariffs. According to World Trade Organization rules, the commission said, Europe can work to counteract the billions of dollars in goods affected.

"We regret that the United States left us with no other option than to safeguard EU interests," European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said in a statement.

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