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date: 15 January 2021

Iran and European Union Politicslocked

  • Sebastian HarnischSebastian HarnischDepartment of Political Science, Heidelberg University

Summary

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the European Union (EU) have not yet established formal diplomatic relations, but since 1979 the Union and its member states have had various strong if often conflictual interactions. The relationship has been marked by distinct phases that reflect the emerging character of the partners, a theocratic republic on the one hand and a Union of interdependent democratic states on the other. While mutual economic interests have formed the basis for substantial interactions, relations with member states and the EU itself have been colored by a long and sometimes hurtful history of European states’ role in Iranian politics, including the Russian and British imperial influence over Persia in the late 19th and early 20th century, the British (and American) involvement in the coup against democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953, and the French hosting of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, an avowed critic of the Pahlavi dynasty, prior to the anti-authoritarian revolution in 1979. Over time, the relationship has substantially shaped the character and direction of the politics of the EU’s common foreign and security policy, resulting in more policy coherence between member states and the EU, more policy autonomy, particularly vis-á-vis the United States, and more proactive behavior, such as during the nuclear negotiations leading to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (in 2015). By engaging with a problematic member of the nonproliferation treaty, the EU not only specified and thus strengthened the treaty, but it also grew into an international nonproliferation actor to reckon with.

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