Iran, French elections and EU’s vague future

Iran Review | Ali Esmaeili Ardakani: The European Union is going through unordinary conditions. Increasing growth of nationalism and populism, discourse-based resistance in the face of globalization, the risk posed by international terrorism, the issue of immigration and refugees, economic crises and other problems have barred analysts from offering an optimistic analysis on the future outlook of the European Union (EU). Macron’s win in the French presidential election as one of the most important member states of the EU, is no reason to ignore anti-immigration and anti-globalization trends across the continent as well as the growth of radical leftist groups, which account for about 40 percent of the country’s population.

The question, however, is what outlook does the French election depict for the European Union? And what kind of relations could be imaginable between Iran and the EU in this outlook? In answer, one can note that a review of Macron’s policies and election slogans show that by becoming the French president, he seems to be trying to foster a positive attitude toward collective identity of the EU. He also seems to be poised to ask the European countries to join comprehensive relations through enhanced economic and political cooperation and convergence in order to bolster the EU’s leadership position within international community.

This election can affect not only the future of France, but also that of the European Union, NATO, and trans-Atlantic relations in addition to the outlook of international community’s politics and identity. Five major topics can be taken into account in order to support this claim:

1.     Adoption of a suitable policy in the face of Washington’s rejection of NATO’s position
Rejecting the position of NATO and considering it as obsolete by the new US President Donald Trump will be a major concern for a French-centered EU. The EU has tied its security identity to the United States since its inception and now finds itself in a state of strategic isolation. Doubting the importance and position of NATO will lead of short- and long-term security challenges for the EU and the sole way to repel them is close cooperation among axial EU members such as Poland, Germany, and France in the fields of defense and security.

2.     Economic challenges and uncertainties within the EU
Following economic crises in 2008, large parts of the EU are still grappling with economic crises. In the meantime, policies adopted by Germany to support the European Union have been approached with a lot of doubt. Due to its sluggish economy, France cannot successfully manage the EU’s strategy to maintain euro on its own. This outlook would seem even bleaker when Trump’s opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is added. Activating economic cooperation between the EU and China is one of those leverages, which can convince Trump to revise his policies with regard to the TTIP, because imbalance in global economic equations with China playing a leading role in the global economy, will be a common threat that cannot be taken lightly by the United States.

3.     Future relations between France and Germany after Brexit
A political axis comprising Germany, France and the UK has always set major directions of the European Union since 1958 through close cooperation among the aforesaid countries. Now, the UK’s decision to leave the union and Germany’s reluctance to assume more responsibility within the union have cast doubts on future orientations of this union. Of course, increasing the trade volume between France and Germany from the current figure of 14 billion euros can be a positive step for maintaining this axis. Increasing trade transactions can help Paris and Berlin to maintain close relations of the past. Another point is political and economic direction to be taken by the UK after the Brexit, which can reveal the real form of this axis.

4.     Adopting an official approach to US-Russia balance, Ukraine crisis and Russia’s sanctions
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s threat were two highlights in the French presidential election. While the eurosceptic Marine Le Pen believed in interaction with Russia, Macron believed in negotiations with Russia over the issue of Ukraine. However, if Trump proves reluctant to cooperate in the management of challenges caused by Russia in Eastern Europe, relations between Russia and the EU will be knocked off balance. This imbalance will force the EU to give new concessions to Russia, for example, by reducing sanctions it has imposed on Moscow, in order to alleviate threats posed by Russia. Macron’s ability to convince the United States to resume its active role in Europe’s defense strategies can shed some light on the future of the European Union.

5.     EU’s international standing with focus on management of international crises
The Middle East and continuous crises, especially in Syria, Iraq and Libya, have a direct impact on the security situation within the European Union. The need to manage these crises in addition to maintaining the nuclear deal with Iran – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – as the EU’s most important international achievement, calls on the EU to boost its effort to bring international actors back to a single course. On the other hand, economic growth of China and future interactions between the European Union and China, in addition to the ongoing war of words between the United States and North Korea, are other issues, which can cast doubt on the European Union’s leadership role. If Macron’s election win is followed with a policy to help Russia make better decisions on the crisis in Ukraine, along with reduction of sanctions on Moscow, it can help bolster the union’s leadership role.

Iran and future of European Union
The future outlook of Iran’s relations with the European Union can be briefly explained within the two sides’ regional and international strategies as follows:
–          Iran can engage in close strategic cooperation with the EU over such issues as border security (considering that Iran is among countries hosting the biggest immigrant population), drug trafficking, human smuggling, fight on terrorism, environmental issues, and preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the region. In short, it can work with the EU to prevent further spread of these crises;
–          The best state for Iran within this outlook is to help further strengthening of the EU through Macron’s pro-EU and union-based approach, so that, France could join hands with Germany and play the main role as counterbalance to the United States’ pressures and breaches of promises. The best state for the European Union, on the other hand, will be maintenance of the nuclear deal with Iran and establishing closer ties with Tehran as an energy alternative in the future;
–          Iran’s access to open seas and oceans can have many economic advantages for the EU and help its member states achieve a strategic position through access to Southeast and East Asia. On the other hand, Iran’s access to EU’s economic market and establishment of stable relations can greatly promote the country’s international standing.
Last but not least, while bolstering collective and political identity of the EU, Iran must try to demonstrate its superb geopolitical position in West Asia region to European states. By bolstering the European discourse in its foreign and economic relations, Iran will be able to shore up the leadership role of the European Union (with France and Germany at its center), and use it as a third force in the face of the United States.