Scramble to help Iran making EU’s ‘foreign policy’ office look almost entirely useless

Martin Jay
Martin Jay is an award winning British journalist now based in Beirut who works on a freelance basis for a number of respected British newspapers as well as previously Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle TV. Before Lebanon, he has worked in Africa and Europe for CNN, Euronews, CNBC, BBC, Sunday Times and Reuters. Follow him on Twitter @MartinRJay
Scramble to help Iran making EU’s ‘foreign policy’ office look almost entirely useless
The EU’s own foreign policy, ran by Federica Mogherini, is looking more and more farcical by the day. Her efforts to save Iran’s economic demise are only making her own office look like it’s in its last days.

Andy Warhol famously said that one day, everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame. And this is certainly true of Federica Mogherini and her €793 million annual budget she gets to spend on keeping an EU fantasy alive: that the EU has a real, working foreign policy.

And for just one fleeting moment, the world held its breath when Donald Trump announced that the US was pulling out of the so-called Iran Deal, throwing the spotlight on the EU to grasp the nettle and, for the very first time, break away from Washington’s leadership on the international circuit and do its own thing.

At that pivotal moment, many thought that EU firms pulling out of Iran wasn't such a big blow to the EU's Save Iran Project, even though talk of a 'super directive' which – don’t laugh – aimed to force them not to, was always faintly preposterous at best and delusional at worse.

But in fact, the news in the last few days that the EU's own investment bank won't even come up with a rescue plan for Iran's economy is much more significant and indicative to just how delusional and ineffective so called EU 'foreign policy’ really is.

This cavalier move by the EU may well be a suicidal one as with each day passing, the reality for EU member states – if not its citizens – is that ever since the early days of EU folks dreaming of acquiring real hegemony with the farcical and entirely useless Barcelona Process in 1995, the EU is still operating in Cloud Cuckoo Land. ‘Foreign Policy’ is in fact something just conjured up by federalists in Brussels and more a subject or a theme for the press fodder machine in the Belgian capital to feed compliant journalists. It’s a black cat in a windowless room, sitting on the black chair. It doesn’t really exist.

Or rather, it only exists in your mind. Scary.

But it almost did, with the Iran Deal, which the EU cherished as it felt, erroneously, that it was Brussels that did all the hard work. The EU’s first international deal. Like a baby being born, we could see the head of power, hegemony, more blue flags, Euronews being pumped into all the hotels in the world, an EU army of soldiers with perfect haircuts.

Not quite.

The idea that the EU is going to save Iran's economy is quickly looking farcical. But given that the Iran Deal is so important for credibility of the EU's new-and-yet-to-be-tested foreign policy, its demise will have a bigger impact on Brussels than many might think.

The EU cannot impinge any of its prestige or power onto EU companies through legislation to stop them leaving Iran. It probably cannot muster up magical new banking system for EU governments to buy Iran’s oil. Yet the notion that Brussels could use its clout to open the sluices of new investment in Iran, to counterweight lost revenue and investment – which might have had a germ of common sense to it – is also looking highly unlikely. Even Iran has lost its confidence in Brussels in recent days and, despite giving Brussels a deadline in July to come through, has already announced plans to go ahead with its nuclear program.  

But the folly of pretending there is an effective foreign policy merely shines light onto another euro myth: who really controls the EU project.

Hordes of EU skeptics such as myself have been at pains to point out that the EU elite has built an infrastructure in Brussels which actually only serves multinationals' interests through their manipulation of the EU parliament’s legislative process – largely through using their lobbying power to create new EU directives which whittle out smaller businesses from the marketplace.

Darwin scramble

The remarkable thing about this well oiled machine, which you can see for yourselves if you go to any EU parliamentary session, is that it is global, rather than EU: huge multinationals who are mainly American, like tobacco giant Philip Morris or Amazon pay millions to lobby firms to re-work MEPs' amendments to draft legislation, entirely manipulating the EU process for their own profits.

Parliamentary sessions are a frenzied, Darwinian scramble of activity from lobbyists desperate to get their own amended versions of text fed into the chambers’ debate, a sort of ant hill of panic, greed and anarchy as political consultants in cheap suits outnumber the MEPs, journalists and certainly citizens in their naked lust to increase shareholder profits. Hard to believe?

The latest devastating blow to Mogherini’s verve in rallying support for Iran – and one which proves how ignorant she is even how the EU works – is the European Investment Bank’s refusal to back the Iran idea. The EIB, a bank which most hacks in Brussels don’t really know much about, due to its secrecy and the distance it keeps itself from the daily spoon-feeding of journalist with EU daily fodder, is a bit of an enigma. Based in Luxembourg, the murky epicentre of banking secrecy, it provides loans to businesses inside and out of the EU and is hugely profitable.

Yet what Mogherini doesn’t get is how the global corporate takeover of the EU also permeates this bank, which in turn gets to choose where it puts its money.

Anyone know what the EIB actually is?

Although in theory owned by EU member states’ governments, most of the money the EIB raises is actually from the US and so it’s hardly surprising that it doesn't want to bite the hand that feeds it. Why would the EIB help the Iranian economy get back on its feet after Pompeo, Bolton and any of Trump’s late night telephone cronies have decided that Iran is now going to be a target for destabilization? This is after all, the same EIB, which I investigated in 2015, for backing Turkey’s Ford subsidiary with a massive loan, which had a direct impact on jobs at a Ford factory in the UK. It’s pretty ruthless in serving its masters’ causes and feared so much by EU governments for its powers, that I assume Theresa May is afraid to propose to Brussels, as part of Brexit talks, to sell the UK’s stake, believed to be worth over €40 bn? 

Or perhaps she simply doesn’t know and, like Mogherini, is a little out of the picture.

However, the bigger picture today is that there will be no super directive to bust EU companies scrambling to leave Iran, probably no banking system to buy Iran’s oil and certainly no EIB investment in small business. If the EU can't put together a plan to bypass the oil sanctions (EU takes 40 percent of all of Iran's oil) then it might be that Trump's move to hit Iran will pay double dividends, with only months away from EU elections, where the EU elite like Mogherini fret that with the trend of anti establishment voting sweeping across Europe, than all time low voter turnouts of 17 percent will be the norm.

Trump’s fatuous move on Iran has given Mogherini her 15 minutes of fame but it has also shown European voters how the EU has no real clout when it comes to foreign policy, despite keeping an army of diplomats on the payroll from an office in Brussels which spends $2.5 million on crockery but does little else. 

A US diplomat close to the talks told me that when John Kerry rushed back to Paris in April 2015 after private talks with the Iranians he called the foreign ministers both of London and Paris. He didn’t call Mogherini. But the list of Mogherini failures is too long to list. From the Assad regime and extremist groups failing to take seriously her offer in 2017 for a ‘cash solution’ to peace in Syria, right through to her recent conference she resorted to holding in Brussels – when peace conferences organised both by the UN and Russia didn’t even invite her as a key player. Even Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu humiliated her in recent days by avoiding a meeting with her, such is her sensational ineffectiveness in the region.  

With the Iran deal and the failure of the EU to stand up to Trump, plus the rise of very recent right-wing political groups (Italy and Slovenia) we may well be witnessing the first of many nails to be firmly banged into the EU's dank coffin marked ‘EU Foreign Policy – RIP.’

Will the last one out of Federica’s Brussels office, please switch the lights off?

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