Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

EP: Iran to be Brought Back to Negotiations, Military Solution Is not an Alternative

Ralitsa Kovacheva, February 3, 2012

The European Parliament has passed a resolution in support of the sanctions imposed by the European Union on Iran. A day earlier MEPs discussed the situation in the country with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. She recalled that in November 2011 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submitted a report, according to which Iran was trying to develop military nuclear technology. Iran started operations to enrich uranium to a level of near 20% at the underground facility near Qom, a site controlled by the Iranian military, she added.

As a result, on 23 January the Council of EU foreign ministers approved new sanctions against Iran. These include a phased embargo of Iranian crude oil imports to the EU, restrictions in the financial sector, including against the Central Bank of Iran, and in the transport sector, as well as further export restrictions, notably on gold and on sensitive dual-use goods and technology.

The purpose of the sanctions, Baroness Ashton explained, was to reduce the financial resources of the Iranian authorities to develop their nuclear programme, by curtailing its revenue from crude oil exports, that counted for approximately 80% of Iran’s exports and 70% of the government’s revenues. 20% of Iranian oil exports go to the EU. "We must remember that we need Iranian oil more than Iran needs anything that we could give to them," Spanish MEP EPP José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra said during the debate.

His independent colleague Béla Kovacs (Hungary) asked Catherine Ashton whether before the decision on sanctions was taken, it was well considered how it would affect the energy security in Europe. "How to explain to our consumers that a litre of petrol will cost over 2 euros and there will be enormous queues?" Mr Kovacs asked. Other MEPs pointed out that the member states which were most heavily dependent on Iranian oil were precisely those worst hit by the debt crisis - Spain, Italy and Greece. Greece buys about a third of its oil from Iran and the share of Iranian oil in Italy and Spain is about 10%.

Ms Ashton said that the sanctions would be introduced in a phased manner stages, namely to allow member states to adapt to the new situation and to ensure the continuity of energy supplies. The Parliament resolution "calls on the Council to decide on measures to offset the impact of the embargo on the various EU Member States." Meanwhile, lawmakers want to ensure that the sanctions target only the accountable elites and that ordinary people, especially the most vulnerable, are not hit by them.

The purpose of the sanctions is to force the Iranian government to respect UN resolutions and to avoid further escalation, the resolution states. It urges Iran to halt its illegal nuclear programme and to refrain from blocking the Strait of Hormuz. MEPs believe this could lead to a regional conflict that could trigger a response from the international community. "We do not want to destabilise the regime, but we must be sure that it does not possess nuclear weapons and missiles to shoot it and that it is ready to cooperate with the international community, so no one can find reasons to start a war," German EPP MEP Elmar Brock said during the debates.

His colleague Fiorello Provera ("Europe of Freedom and Democracy", Italy) noted that Iranian missiles 'Shahab' could reach EU countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus, so time was pressing the EU to seek a diplomatic solution, he said. The resolution also says that the issues with Iran over its nuclear programme must be solved peacefully and that there is no military solution to the conflict. MEPs assign an important role to Turkey as a partner in persuading Iran to return to the negotiating table. In this spirit many MEPs spoke too, including Bulgarian MEP Antonyia Parvanova (ALDE). Many suggested that the EU should open a permanent office in Tehran so as to be able to play an important role in the negotiations.

MEPs express their regret regarding the ongoing refusal of China and Russia to support sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council. They called on Russia to cease providing assistance for Iran's nuclear development until Iran has fully complied with its obligations under UN resolutions.