The EU leaders need to send a message to the rest of the world that Europe will look after “its own economic interests”, an EU official told EURACTIV.com ahead of an informal EU summit in Sofia, overshadowed by the US threat to hit EU companies operating in Iran with sanctions.
In the spotlight are both the national leaders and the European Commission, expected to provide a general direction of what Europe intends to do and a response to the possible US sanctions.
President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and its short-term consequences could not be ignored and will be discussed tonight at an informal dinner of EU leaders, ahead of the EU-Western Balkans summit on Thursday (17 May).
However, no concrete and “fully detailed” decision will be made, considering that the US sanctions are not in place yet.
The US administration has said that Washington is prepared to impose sanctions on European companies that do business in Iran, following its decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
Steven Blockmans, the head of EU foreign policy at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), told EURACTIV in February that the EU should come up with contingency planning to protect its business if the US walked away from the Iran deal.
“If and when new US sanctions come into effect, EU companies will face a binary choice: doing business in Iran or continuing operations with a US dimension.”
“Without European protection of their investments against the long arm of US sanctions, companies are likely to stop trading with Iran. This is not in the interest of the EU and its member states. They should, therefore, start contingency planning,” the CEPS expert said.
in Sofia, the EU official noted that the US sanctions are a “hypothetical scenario” but EU leaders are expected to re-affirm tonight their commitment to “sticking together in terms of the nuclear deal on condition that Teheran fulfils its obligation […] and send a general message of unity.”
“A general direction on what is next and where we are going is expected tonight,” the official added.
In addition, EU leaders are expecting from the European Commission College on Wednesday to present several options and plans in the event that EU companies are sanctioned by the US.
The Macedonian name dispute
The official stressed that the debate about Western Balkans will take centre stage at the summit on Thursday, while the long-standing name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will also be raised.
The EU official noted that the messages the EU Council has been receiving about the name dispute are positive and that it’s “cautiously optimistic”.
“We expect from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his FYROM’s counterpart Zoran Zaev to update other EU leaders on the latest developments.”
The official said that a deal could be expected by the General Affairs Council in June, as a solution between the two countries would have a “positive spill-over effect to the wider region”.
Asked if the opposition parties in the two countries could put a potential deal at risk, the official replied that a deal is “doable” and at the end of the day “both governments have a majority in their parliaments and could take advantage of this window of opportunity”.
Tsipras and Zaev will meet on the sidelines of the summit tomorrow. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva told EURACTIV on Tuesday that she was optimistic about the latest developments.
“I see an opportunity there. I really hope they will finish these complicated but positive negotiations, which will be good for the citizens of both states.”
Despite being positive, Athens and Skopje are not having high hopes.
“The meeting will be extremely useful and important, but we cannot, in any case, assume that it will reach an agreement and it is very likely that we will need another round to fill the gap between the two sides,” Greek government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos noted.
“We would like to find the final solution, but not at any price,” said Zaev.