Following US President Donald Trump’s latest charge against Europe, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said on Monday (16 July) that the bloc will “always” consider the US as “close friends and partners”.
In an interview aired on Sunday, Trump described the EU as a “foe” after a tumultuous tour in Europe last week pushed the transatlantic relationship to new lows.
“If I were a journalist I would probably ask him who he considers his friends,” Mogherini said on her way into the Council on Foreign Affairs.
“We have very clear in mind who are our friends, and I hope the US Administration has clear ideas on who their friends are as well,” she told reporters.
On Monday, Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. The Europeans fear that the unpredictable US president could offer concessions to his Russian counterpart or soften the US position on the annexation of Crimea.
European Council President Donald Tusk told Trump last week to remember “who is your strategic friend” and “who is your strategic problem” when he meets with Putin.
Saving Iran deal
Protecting European interests from Trump’s actions was also part of the ministers’ meeting.
The Foreign Affairs Council approved the amendment on the 1996 regulation in order to block in Europe the extraterritorial effects of American sanctions against European companies doing business with Iran.
The US Administration would sanction companies doing business with Tehran as from August, following its exit from the nuclear deal with the country last May.
The extension of the 1996 regulation to cover the US would allow stop enforcing any US court decision against companies on EU soil. It would also permit EU businesses to seek compensation to damages coming from US sanctions.
The amendment followed the recent US Administration’s rejection to exempt European companies from the punitive measures.
Germany, the United Kingdom and France, who negotiated the agreement with US, China and Russia, sent a letter to Washington requesting waivers in sectors including finance, energy and healthcare.
Following the Council meeting, Mogherini said that the update of the regulation represented a “consistent step forward” to ensure that economic benefits deriving from the nuclear deal can continue being in place.
In 2015, Iran agreed to stop its nuclear programme in return for lifting the economic sanctions.
The EU’s trade with Iran nearly tripled in under three years, growing from €7.7 billion in 2015 to €21 billion in 2017.
But despite the European efforts, which also include strengthened sectorial cooperation with Iran, companies are concerned of possible US retaliation, and they are cutting down their investment in the country.
The withdrawal of French energy company Total, whose planned investment of $1 billion was seen as a symbol of the nuclear deal’s success, represented a serious blow to the main economic sector of the country.
Iran has the world’s biggest gas reserves and is the third-biggest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Mogherini admitted that it would be a “difficult exercise” to maintain the deal alive, given the important role the US plays in the global economy.
But she emphasised the “full determined effort” from EU, China and Russia for keeping the economic engagement with Iran.
If the deal collapses, she warned that the consequences would be “catastrophic for all”.
French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the Europeans are “determined” to maintain the deal with Iran alive.
To that end, he explained that the bloc would partner with China and Russia to apply a financial instrument that would allow Iran to export its oil.
Iran warned that it would respect the nuclear deal as long as its interests are preserved. In that regard, the country demanded European countries to present new offers to compensate for the US’s withdrawal from the agreement.
Despite Trump’s latest remarks against the Europeans, the ministers tried to play down his comments.
Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister, Didier Reynders, said that the “main element” is that the US and the Europeans confirmed their partnership during the NATO summit last week, and the alliance remains “very strong”.
But he added that “unfortunately” both sides disagreed on issues including the nuclear deal with Iran, the fight against climate change, trade or the Middle East.
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malta, Carmelo Abela said that “I don’t see any enemies but only collaborators where we can cooperate together on issues we have around the world”.
“It seems he has bad relations with everybody”, said Spain’s Foreign Affairs minister Josep Borrell, as he recalled that Trump also mentioned Russia and China as competitors in his remarks.
He told reporters that Trump’s comments did not bring anything new, since it is already known that he doesn’t like multilateralism, and “he never hide that he doesn’t like the EU”.