Normative power Europe

Though French President Emanuel Macron attempted to convince his US counterpart to remain part of the Iran nuclear deal when he was invited over to a state dinner at the White House, barely 2 weeks later US President Trump announced the US had officially withdrawn from “the worst deal ever.” Back in 2002, allegations arose by an Iranian exile group that then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was starkly increasing Iran’s nuclear facilities. Only several years after the allegations arose, the international community decided to respond. The United Nations, swiftly followed by the USA and the EU, decided to impose predominantly financial sanctions on Iran, seriously impacting the oil and weapon business that dominated Iran’s economic climate.

To settle the issue, the P5+1 – the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the EU – met with Iran. In the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, later dubbed the Iran nuclear deal, it was decided that the sanctions imposed on Iran by the western economies would be lifted in return for a significant reduction in Iran’s nuclear program. Prime negotiator of this deal was High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.

Why Trump backed out and what this means for the deal

Already during the election campaign, Trump indicated that the Iran deal was “the worst deal ever” and that he would pull the US out of it. He shared concerns with Israeli President Netanyahu that the deal gave Iran a free-pass to keep on developing nuclear weapons. Now that the US has withdrawn itself from the deal, the US will probably reimpose economic sanctions on Iran. Experts say that this move will only enhance Iranian President Rouhani’s power as he had previously indicated to dismantle the deal if the western powers would violate it. In the end, Iran will be able to blame the west for making the deal collapse while expanding its nuclear arsenal.

Weakness on the EU’s side

Truth to be told, no one thinks of the EU when the Iran deal is discussed. Though the deal was sealed by our High Representative and she must be credited for this, the EU remains a weak normative power, having no significant power capabilities to divert President Trump’s plans to back out of the deal. Moreover, it is yet to be seen whether the EU can uphold the deal with the other remaining powers while the US is out, or whether the deal will crumble all together. Normative power Europe, or rather weak power Europe, does not have the means to be effective without another major world power taking the lead or decisively following the EU’s role. What remains difficult in the EU is the fact that as a united front it rarely acts, but instead the major powers – France, Germany, and still, the United Kingdom – have started negotiations with Iran to keep the deal alive. Where the EU comes in remains to be seen.

Author: Eva Durlinger

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