The US withdrawal from the Iran deal (JCPOA) has not buried it. That agreement is still very much alive. Even the US’s closest allies have refused to follow suit. The Iranian foreign minister is going on a trip just to save it. Tehran has the backing of all the signatories to the JCPOA, except America. That list includes Russia, China, and the EU, which keeps on trying to find an arrangement.
What the US did manage was to deal a heavy blow to trans-Atlantic solidarity. Washington set a six-month deadline for European companies doing business in Iran to get out. They’ll have to either terminate their operations or face heavy penalties. This means that the US has now become the main threat to Europe’s economy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel slammed President Trump for his decision to pull out. The unofficial leader of Europe believes it “damages trust” in the global order. She is not alone. The UK and France have also admitted that they regret Trump’s move. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire stated that European powers should not be Washington’s "vassals."
On May 11, the German chancellor discussed the situation with the Russian president in a phone conversation. There’ll be more talks on May 18 when Angela Merkel visits the Russian resort city of Sochi. In defiance of the US, Germany became the first EU country to begin the construction of its portion of the Nord Stream 2 gas project on May 3. It did so even before Sweden and Finland had agreed to permit the pipeline to pass through their territorial waters. The US is adamant in its opposition to Nord Stream 2. Washington does not shy away from twisting the arms of any allies who dare to see Russia’s stable and cheap energy supplies as an alternative to America’s more expensive liquefied gas that must be transported by sea.
The US-European relationship has been clouded by Washington’s plans to introduce tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from the EU. The German chancellor has pointed out on a number of occasions that the US and EU have been clashing more frequently, which indicates that a wider schism is opening up within the Western alliance.
European leaders will discuss the US withdrawal from the Iran deal, as well as trade policy, at an EU summit that will be held June 28-29 in Bulgaria, at which the US is expected to face “a united European front.” Meanwhile, the EU is prepared to introduce countermeasures in response to the US-imposed punitive restrictions against European companies doing business with Iran. The idea has been floated of adopting an EU-wide blocking statute to nullify any US sanctions. A trade war is just around the corner. Can security interests coincide when economic ones differ so much? Not a chance.
The German chancellor believes that US global influence is on the wane and the time is ripe for Europe to stop relying on America’s military protection. Instead, it should “take its destiny into its own hands.” Some conflicts, such as a potential clash between Israel and Iran over Syria, may occur. Hostilities in the Middle East could trigger more streams of refugees into the Old Continent, but that’s a European headache. Why should Washington care?
Last month, Paris launched an initiative to set up a European intervention force in June that would operate independently of the EU’s current efforts. That would make it possible to include Great Britain, along with Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark. So far too much of the EU initiatives has consisted of hot air. Significant strides have been made on paper but with too few results achieved in purely practical terms. Some EU tactical rapid-reaction units exist but they have never been deployed.
This time, Britain was quick to support the French initiative. In December, the EU created PESCO but it’s not clear if the UK would be a part of it after pulling out from the EU. London is seeking a security treaty with the bloc by 2019 — the Brexit deadline.
Meanwhile, EU High Representative Mogherini has announced her intention to submit for consideration by mid-June the new European Peace Facility that will streamline the EU's funding of defence and military operations. Seventeen joint European defense-program projects are being pursued within the framework of PESCO.
The US openly humiliated Europe by making a unilateral decision on such an important security issue as the Iran deal and threatening its closest allies with trade sanctions. Europeans are being told which energy projects are best for them. And prior to that, Washington made a unilateral decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
Sooner or later anyone’s patience wears thin. Today Europe is being pushed toward countering the “America First” message with a “Europe First” policy. Angela Merkel has the right to adopt her own “Germany First” approach. It looks like the European locomotive is shifting tracks to head off in that new direction. Despite all the nice words about common values and so on, these two entities are gradually diverging to go their separate ways.