Iran and the EU
What is the status of EU-Iran relations?
The overarching objectives of EU-Iran relations, are based on the Joint Statement from 16 April 2016. Areas of cooperation with Iran include in principle: economic cooperation, trade and investment, agriculture, transport, energy and climate change, civil nuclear cooperation, science, research and innovation, education, culture, environment, drugs, migration, humanitarian issues and regional issues.
In December 2022 the Council of the EU adopted new Conclusions on Iran outlining the EU’s position on its relationship with Iran, the JCPOA, regional issues and human rights.
The EU supports a balanced, comprehensive approach with Iran, including dialogue, with a view to addressing all issues of concern, critical when there are divergences and cooperative when there is mutual interest.
In December 2021, the European Commission adopted a Multiannual Indicative Programme for Iran for 2021-2027 under NDICI as framework for the implementation of bilateral cooperation projects.
Following the death in police custody of 22 years old Mahsa Amini on 16 September 2022, the EU has strongly condemned the unacceptable violent crackdown of protesters in Iran. The EU stands with the Iranian’s people right to protest peacefully and voice their demands and views freely. On 25 September the High Representative issued a Declaration on behalf of the 27 EU member states. For the European Union and its member states, the widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protestors is unjustifiable and unacceptable. People in Iran, as anywhere else, have the right to peaceful protest. That right must be ensured in all circumstances.
On 17 October, 14 November, and 12 December 2022, the EU adopted sanctions against perpetrators of serious human rights violations in Iran.
The EU has condemned the delivery of Iranian drones to Russia and their deadly deployment in the war of aggression against Ukraine. The EU will continue to respond to all actions supporting Russian aggression. To this end the EU has adopted further sanctions against Iranian individuals and entity on 20 October and on 12 December 2022, in view of their role in the development and delivery of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) used by Russia
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EU-Iran relations are coordinated at the level of the European Union by the EEAS Division, which was established after the conclusion of the of the JCPOA in 2015 and which reports directly to the EEAS Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs.
The EU does not currently have a Delegation in Iran, It is therefore represented by the member state holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Currently the EU is represented by the Embassy of Czech Republic as of 01 July 2022 and by the Embassy of Sweden as of 01 January 2023.
What is the JCPOA?
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Nuclear deal, is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231(2015).
As coordinator of the Joint Commission, the High Representative leads the work to oversee implementation and preserve the JCPOA. The High Representative or his/her designated representative – the EEAS Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs – chairs the quarterly meetings of the Joint Commission.
The JCPOA is a robust verifiable agreement that sets a series of strict limitations on Iran's access to nuclear material and sensitive equipment. In addition, the agreement gives the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unprecedented access to monitor and verify Iran's programme.
Regrettably, on 8 May 2018 the President of the United States announced the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA. Therefore, as of 9 May 2018, the United States does not participate in any JCPOA-related activities or meetings.
On 21 December 2020, participants of the JCPOA acknowledged at ministerial level the prospect of a return of the US to the JCPOA and underlined their readiness to positively address this in a joint effort.
The EU and its Member States are committed to preserving the JCPOA.
The coordinator has been leading diplomatic talks in Vienna, since April 2021, to negotiate the return of the United States to the JCPOA and to ensure once again the full and effective implementation of the agreement by all sides.
What does the JCPOA achieve?
The JCPOA was designed to block both Iran's uranium and plutonium paths to a nuclear weapon.
It increased Iran's breakout time from about 2 months (before the deal) to at least 1 year.
It established a robust verification regime, implemented by the IAEA, the only impartial and independent body, with sixty years of experience in implementing safeguards around the world.
It reduced Iran’s enrichment capacity by approximately 75%; it reduced the stockpile of enriched uranium by approximately 90%, and limited the level of uranium enrichment and the stockpile of enriched uranium Iran can possess.
It established that the nuclear facilities of Arak and Fordow are to be repurposed in a way that they would not be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium or highly enriched uranium respectively.
It created the Procurement Channel, a significant transparency and non-proliferation mechanism, which reviews transfers of sensitive nuclear-related items to Iran that ultimately require an approval by the UN Security Council.
What sanctions did the EU lift?
The lifting of sanctions is an essential part of the JCPOA. The EU fulfilled all its legal obligations on 16 January 2016 (Implementation Day) when the EU legislative framework providing for the lifting of economic and financial nuclear-related sanctions entered into effect. On the same day UN financial nuclear-related sanctions and United States secondary nuclear-related sanctions were also lifted. Sanctions imposed by the EU in view of the human rights situation in Iran, support for terrorism and other grounds are not part of the JCPOA, and remain in place.
For an overview of all EU sanctions lifted and sanctions still in place you may consult the EU's JCPOA Information Note and the EU sanctions map.
What has the EU done to preserve the JCPOA?
Preserving the JCPOA is crucial not only in terms of nuclear non-proliferation but also for the security of the region and beyond.
Following the US decision to withdraw from the agreement in May 2018 and to re-impose previously lifted sanctions, the EU remained determined to continue pursuing legitimate trade with Iran. The EU updated its Blocking Statute, extended the EIB external lending mandate to make Iran eligible and provided comprehensive support to France, Germany and the UK (as core shareholders) to set up and fully operationalize INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges), a special purpose vehicle to facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran. Six more European countries joined INSTEX as shareholders. EU welcomed the decision of six European countries to join Instex as shareholders and encourages further broadening of INSTEX shareholders’ basis. A first transaction was successfully concluded on March 2020.
The EU has continuously expressed deep regret at the US decision to withdraw from the agreement and re-imposition of sanctions. At the same time, the EU is also committed to maintaining cooperation with the United States, which remains a key partner and ally.
Since July 2019 Iran has taken different steps to reduce its nuclear commitments. The EU and its Member States have consistently urged Iran to reverse these steps and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal.
Since April 2021, several rounds of talks took place in Vienna to negotiate the return of the United States to the JCPOA and how to ensure the full and effective implementation of the agreement by all sides.
Under the terms of the JCPOA, the Joint Commission – led by the High Representative or his representative the EEAS Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs – is the relevant forum for dialogue to address all issues of concern.