Iran

Christian Oliver

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Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif, right, with EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini

With “implementation day” for the Iranian nuclear deal passing this weekend, the EU is wasting no time in staking its claim in what could become a high-stakes, cut-throat transatlantic commercial competition over modernising Iran’s oil industry. Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU’s energy commissioner, yesterday attempted to seize the initiative by announcing Brussels would send a “technical assessment mission” to Tehran next month, adding he looked forward to establishing a “high-level energy dialogue” sometime thereafter.

Although much of the diplomatic attention has focused on Tehran and Washington for more than a year, Europe’s diplomats fought a long and often thankless battle to help secure the deal. There has always been an intense debate about whether Tehran would be grateful towards the EU as a result. Would the Iranians finally take a softer line on European investment in the energy sector? Or would they wait? Would they keep Iran’s prime assets for US investors, holding out for the real prize: the reopening of the American embassy in Tehran?

One of the EU’s priorities is to push to improve the terms of upstream contracts, which were a major disincentive to investment for the European oil majors in the early 2000s. Companies such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Repsol and Statoil all sought to gain a foothold in Iran in the early part of the millennium, but found the obstacles were commercial as well as political. Read more

Peter Spiegel

Among the more revealing EU-related disclosures in the WikiLeaks trove are not about Washington’s view of the European Union, but rather about how members of the EU view each other.

One of the more colourful dispatches that have come out thus far is an April 2004 account of an otherwise dull Brussels evening event in which a US official was seated at a table with the featured speaker: Chris Patten, the high-profile British diplomat who at the time was the EU’s foreign affairs commissioner.

Labeled “Dining with Chris: Random Thoughts from Relex” – relex is Euro-speak for the foreign policy, or “external relations,” portfolio – the cable offers Patten’s vivid views on everything from Romania (a “feral nation”) to then-Russian President Vladimir Putin (when discussing Chechnya, “Putin’s eyes turn to those of a killer”). Read more

Tony Barber

Turkey’s bid to join the European Union is expected to make a little progress today.  I stress “a little”.  In most respects, the cause of Turkish membership of the EU is in worse shape than at any time since EU governments recognised Turkey as an official candidate in 2004.

The progress, minimal though it is, takes the form of an agreement by the EU and Turkey to open formal talks on food security. This is one of the 35 chapters, or policy areas, that a country must complete before it can join the EU.  It means that Turkey will have opened 13 chapters in total.  Of these, however, only one chapter has been closed.  If this is progress, the snail is king of the race track. Read more

Tony Barber

How time flies when you’re having fun.  I spent the best part of Wednesday trailing Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister, around Brussels.  After about four hours it dawned on me that, no matter how strange and disturbing some of his statements, his style is in certain respects remarkably similar to that of a European politician.  That is to say, he repeats his best lines wherever he goes, presumably in the belief that if you say something often enough, in as many different places as possible, at least some people will swallow your message and regurgitate it to others. Read more

Tony Barber

There are two ways of looking at the imminent appointment of Jerzy Buzek, a former Polish prime minister, as the next president of the European Parliament.  The first way is to applaud Europe’s politicians for doing the right thing and giving one of the European Union’s top jobs to a man from one of the 10 former communist countries in central and eastern Europe that joined the EU in 2004-2007.  This is the highest honour yet accorded to a public figure from one of the EU’s new member-states.  Poles are justifiably proud.

The second way, however, is to be honest and recognise that the job of parliament president is about the lowest-ranking position someone could be given without its looking like an insult.  Buzek, who belongs to the legislature’s main centre-right group, won’t even hold the job for the assembly’s full five-year term: under a deal with the socialists, he will step down after two and a half years and hand over the reins to a socialist.  The fact is that, by giving this post to Buzek, older and bigger member-states in western Europe are making sure that they will get all the really big jobs when they come up for grabs later this year. Read more