Brussel: Europe is prepared to introduce measures to nullify the effect of Donald Trump imposing sanctions on any non-US firm that continues to do business with Iran, the French government has said.
The warning from the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, suggests Trump’s proposals to corral Europe into joining US foreign policy on Iran may lead to a severe backlash by EU firms and politicians, especially advocates of a stronger independent European foreign policy.
“We have to work among ourselves in Europe to defend our European economic sovereignty,” Le Maire said, adding that Europe could use the same instruments as the US to defend its interests. Speaking on Europe 1 he added: “Do we want to be a vassal that obeys and jumps to attention?”
When Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the Iran nuclear deal he said the US was also reimposing sanctions, including on any entity that continued to trade with Iran, in effect threatening billions of euros of European business.
The US Treasury has said it is giving companies three to six months to wind down their contracts, including purchases of Iranian oil.
On Friday Le Maire put forward three main proposals starting with an EU-wide blocking statute similar to an EU regulation passed in 1996 designed to nullify any US sanctions imposed on EU firms. The statute permitted European companies to ignore the US sanctions and said that any decisions by foreign courts based on the such sanctions would not be upheld in Europe. The US backed down before any sanctions were implemented.
“We want to reinforce this regulation and incorporate the recent decisions taken by the United States,” Le Maire said.
He added: “The second avenue is looking at Europe’s financial independence – what can we do to give Europe more financial tools allowing it to be independent from the United States?” One proposal is to set up a purely European finance house to oversee euro-denominated transactions with Iran.
He also proposed a European agency capable of following the activities of foreign companies. Le Maire said he would meet with German and British finance ministers at the end of the month to discuss these proposals.
Le Maire disclosed that he had already called the US Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, urging him to allow exemptions for French companies or a delay in implementing the sanction.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said possibilities to save the deal without Washington needed to be discussed with Tehran, while economy minister, Peter Altmaier, said Germany was ready to give help to its affected firms, including legal advice, to continue doing business in Iran.
The new US ambassador to Germany was forced on to the defensive this week after sending out a tweet telling German businesses they should wind down their links with Iran.