EU and US send opposite signals to Iran’s reconciliation plan

The agreement between the international community and Iran is under question now that Donald Trump will preside over the United States. The new American President has taken a clear position against the deal throughout his campaign. In contrast, just a couple of weeks ago the Europeans have expressed very contrasting views, voting a resolution that endorses closer economic and political relations with Iran. How the Trans-Atlantic partners will accommodate their views in relation to Tehran and the larger Middle East is now the big question.

In this analysis, we are mapping the views of the political forces across the EU with regard to relations with Iran, highlighting the nuances among the political families and countries.


After the signing of an agreement on Iranian nuclear program (entailing the lifting of the sanctions on the country by the European Union upon the implementation of the Iranian commitment to limit its nuclear program), a veritable gold rush to the untapped economic and energetic resources of this country is unfolding. Indeed, energy companies are eager to invest in the Middle Eastern country: Iran is the second country in the world by gas reserves and the fourth one by oil reserves. National governments are trying to support their companies, by promoting business trips to the country and meetings with key political stakeholders of the Islamic Republic.

Not surprisingly, this warmer European attitude towards Iran is harshly criticised by the Israeli government, which opposed the lifting of the sanctions in the first place. In fact, relations between the two countries are sour, to say the least. This puts the Europeans (and the rest of the World) in a difficult position, trying to cooperate with both sides while alleviating their concerns. For this reasons, we can spot many shades among the views of the European politicians.

Drawing on its vast database of MEPs’ voting records, VoteWatch Europe discovered that support for a closer relationship with Iran does not follow the usual cleavages of EU politics (left-right or centre-periphery).

Divisions by political families: EPP and S&D groups reject linking the deepening of economic relations with Iran to improvements of its human rights record

A large and heterogeneous majority of Members of the European Parliament (who gathers all relevant parties from across the 28 EU member states) support the establishment of closer political and economic relations with Iran. The main centrist political families, the European People’s Party and the Socialists, are part of this majority. This shows that enjoying the practical benefits (economical and geopolitical) of a deeper cooperation with Iran has become, in the eyes of most European leaders, a more stressing priority in the current context.

This is not the case of all of them. The Conservatives of ECR (among which Theresa May’s British Tories), the Liberals of ALDE and the radical-leftist of GUE-NGL objected, holding to the argument that human rights issues should still be linked to any relations with Iran.

Notably, the Greens, who are known for their emphasis on human rights, this time sided with the EPP and S&D, preferring a more pragmatic engagement with Iran.

A few separate positions are also worth mentioning: in the centre-left group, the Danish and Walloonians are more critical towards Iran than their fellow socialist colleagues. Similarly, in the EPP the Nordic (Danish, Swedish and Finnish), Belgians and Czech Members had a separate position and endorsed the critical amendments towards Iran tabled by the liberals.

A European majority backed investments in Iranian energy sector and the country’s accession to WTO

Similar coalition patterns are observed in the votes regarding the deepening of the economic relations between Iran and the European Union. Almost unanimously, the centrist groups S&D and EPP called on the European companies to increase their investments in Iranian energy sector, as well as on the EU to facilitate Iranian accession to the World Trade Organization.

Interestingly, all the members of the Green group voted in favor of these paragraphs, despite their longstanding record of criticism towards both free trade (represented by the WTO) and the reliance on gas and oil as energy sources. Another ecologist and, to a certain extent, protectionist-minded party, such as the 5-Star Movement (currently main opposition party in Italy), endorsed the call for more investments and trade with the country. This voting behavior looks surprising at first sight, but it might be explained by the perception by these European political forces of the Shiite State as a source of stability in the region (5-Star Movement also wants the EU to re-open the dialogue with Assad). Notably, the same political forces have a very critical stance towards Israel (in particular in the case of the Greens).

Also in this case, the European Conservatives, Liberals and the far left are more skeptical about warming up the relations between Iran and Europe, ie. they voted against these initiatives.

The following infographic shows the level of support across the political forces in the EU for warmer relations with Iran (by country).MAP

Vast majority of MEPs deplore Iran’s threats against Israel and denial of Holocaust, but the Greens reject the criticism

At the same time, most of the EU parliamentarians (85%) agreed on condemning the harsh statements by Iran against Israel and its denial of the Shoah. The exact text of the paragraph states that:

“Strongly condemns the Iranian regime’s repeated calls for the destruction of Israel and the regime’s policy of denying the Holocaust.”

Notably, only the Greens voted against it.

We also noted an interesting behavior among Marine Le Pen’s Front National Members: at the moment of the vote, they also rejected the text. However, sometime after, all of their 22 parliamentarians who took part in that vote “corrected” their votes, stating that they wanted to vote in favor, but the voting machine did not work properly. Needless to say, it is virtually impossible that 22 voting machines malfunction at the same time and they all belong to the same party.

At the end, apart from the Greens, only few other parties, such as the Greek far-right Golden Dawn, the Spanish United Left and Alexis Tsipras’s SYRIZA did not endorse this paragraph.

The following infographic shows the level of support of the European political families for separate aspects of the relations between the EU and Iran. For details or information on individual parties or parliamentarians voting records, contact us at [email protected].


Related analysis:

Impact of Trump on Europe: first thoughts

What chances for a real European common security and defense policy?

For more analysis and commentary on European politics contact us at [email protected]