The European Commission will launch on Friday the process of activating a law that bans European companies from complying with US sanctions against Iran and does not recognise any court rulings that enforce American penalties.
“As the European Commission we have the duty to protect European companies. We now need to act and this is why we are launching the process to activate the ‘blocking statute’ from 1996. We will do that tomorrow morning at 10:30,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.
“We also decided to allow the European Investment Bank to facilitate European companies’ investment in Iran. The Commission itself will maintain its cooperation will Iran,” Juncker told a news conference after a meeting of EU leaders.
The ‘blocking statute’ is meant to shield European companies doing business with Iran. The last time the bloc threatened to use this measure was in 1996, when Bill Clinton’s administration stood down and agreed to waive sanctions aimed at curbing foreign investment in Cuba, Iran and Libya.
European Union leaders presented a determined front to stand up to US President Donald Trump’s threats to penalise EU businesses and scupper the Iran nuclear deal.
As the bloc paved the way for retaliation, its 28 leaders meeting in the Bulgarian capital Sofia made a rare demonstration of unity in the face of what EU President Donald Tusk called the “capricious assertiveness” of the Trump administration.
Tusk told leaders over a late dinner on Wednesday that the EU will continue fighting for the rules-based international system, despite recent US decisions on climate change, tariffs and on Iran, according to an EU official present. On trade, all agreed to back the European Commission’s insistence that it won’t negotiate unless the US grants a permanent exemption from tariffs on steel and aluminium, the official said.
“What we demand is no conditions and no limits and to go back to the situation before,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters on his way into the summit on Thursday. “The condition for all talks is to lift all threats and tariffs, without mention of a time limit.”
Macron spoke as the Commission, which negotiates trade matters on behalf of the bloc, published a law preparing retaliation. It foresees the possibility of hitting 2.8 billion euros ($3.3 billion) of US goods imported into the EU with a reciprocal 25 per cent levy as of June 20.
Europe’s mood is shifting from shock at Trump’s “America First” agenda to a resolve to close ranks and assert its own position. Trans-Atlantic tensions came to a head with the US president’s decision announced last week to pull out of the landmark Iran nuclear accord which the remaining signatories — Russia, China, France, Germany and the UK, along with the EU — all say is working.
Leaders including Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed that the commission, the EU’s executive, is prepared to discuss trade concerns with the US including deepening energy ties and reform of the World Trade Organisation once a permanent waiver is in place, the official said. The bloc would also discuss WTO-compatible ways to improve reciprocal market access for industrial products including cars to avoid a trade war.
Merkel, Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May briefed fellow leaders on Iran, after failing to persuade Trump to stick with the accord. The EU agreed to begin work to protect European companies negatively affected by the US decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions, while also addressing concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its wider role in the Middle East.
“Everybody in the EU shares the opinion that the Iran agreement is not perfect, but that we should still remain in this agreement and that we should do further negotiations with Iran on the basis of this agreement,” Merkel told reporters as she entered the summit.