Europeans should not follow the American sanctions against Iran!

by Roland Hureaux, essayist, France

It is in the interest of France to put the Iranian issue at the centre of the debate, even if this means a more flexible handling of Trump’s protectionist measures.

Europe is outraged by the protectionist measures, which President Trump has just taken and by the threats he has made against Iran since his withdrawal from the agreement, and this is justified.
However, it may not be the right terrain for a confrontation.
It is obvious that Washington’s protectionist measures, particularly with regard to steel and aluminium, are causing a much more violent storm of indignation than the dictate imposed on European companies, under threat of punishment of severe reprisals, to stop all trading with Iran.
The latter, however, seems much more scandalous to us and, in our view, should be most outrageous to European opinion.
There is nothing wrong with the United States wanting to practise a certain degree of protectionism: Of course, since 1945, the GATT agreements (now WTO) have tended to push it back, but it remains one of the legitimate means of sovereignty available to a state to protect its economy. In this case, Trump’s motives are honourable: to get American workers back to work, to improve the trade balance, to maintain strategic sectors (which we, on the other hand, give up). The effects of free trade are questionable: fewer and fewer experts see it as the panacea for growth.
The consequences of the withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement by the United States are far less lawful: this is a unilateral decision imposed on the partners, which is a serious violation of international law. As we have seen in the case of Alstom, the extraterritoriality of American justice poses a serious threat to the sovereignty of other states and to their economic interests: this strategically important company could only be brought under American control because an American court imposed a heavy fine on an issue that did not take place on American soil
A clear and decisive response to these practices seems to us to be more urgent than the clamour relating steel and aluminium.
Unfortunately, the European countries, which are trapped in the globalist ideology, have brought about a real reversal of values. Trump’s protectionist measures hit hard the ideal of universal free trade, which has long been at the centre of dominant Western thought. From their point of view, this is a serious mistake, a questioning of the world order. On the other hand, the measures against Iran imposed by the US on Europeans against their will only affect their sovereignty; they are also embedded in a Middle East conflict, which many, even on this side of the Atlantic, see as a fight of good against evil, a certain universalism against Iranian particularism. Stunned by overcoming the national, European or global framework, they consider as serious what it is not at all, and as normal, what they should have to outrage most.
The sanctions against Iran seriously damage economic interests: the American threats lead to the suspension of Peugeot and Renault projects, the cancellation of Airbus orders, the withdrawal of Total and Engie and, consequently, to a serious damage of the French economy. The German economy is also affected by Siemens and its banks, but perhaps less than the French economy. By contrast, the German economy has been affected more intensively by American protectionism. However, this asymmetry does not explain the European reaction adequately. Nevertheless, it is in the interest of France to reverse the prospects in order to place the Iranian issue at the heart of the debate, even if this means a more flexible handling of Trump’s protectionist measures. •
(Translation Current Concerns)