The European Union is a peculiar construct. The idea behind its establishment was to — by jam-packing different political and economic units into one giant entity — create a powerhouse that is politically and economically uniform and competitive. But the result has been an unwieldy structure that struggles to impose unity on its components on matters of internal and external policy and that is submissive to traditional power players, including those inside the Union itself.
Germany and France, among the world’s top 10 economies, seem to lay an outsized claim to authority as political and economic decision-makers in the EU, even though the bloc has appointed senior representatives for policymaking. All the while, poorer, outlying members differ on policy and budget assignment.
That disequilibrium has been on display in the EU’s approach toward Iran, too. While the Union’s high representative for foreign policy seems to be in favor of sound diplomacy with Iran, individual member states, mostly the more powerful ones, have been singing their own tune.
The latest instance is the case of an Iranian diplomat who has been accused of involvement in an alleged bomb plot in Europe. Diplomat Assadollah Assadi, posted originally to EU member Austria, was arrested in EU member Germany in 2018 and was moved to EU member Belgium, where authorities claimed they had intercepted him communicating with alleged suspects planning to bomb a gathering of anti-Iran cultists in France, also an EU member.
Those countries are using their membership in the Union to easily have Mr. Assadi arrested in one member state and move and try him in another, but are conveniently refusing to acknowledge his diplomatic immunity on the grounds that it applies only to one member state, namely Austria. Essentially, they are being EU members when prosecuting Mr. Assadi but unconnected individual units when it comes to acknowledging his immunity.
That duplicitous behavior is confounded when juxtaposed with the position of the Union’s top representative for foreign and security policy, Josep Borrell, who has said he seeks “maximum diplomacy” with Iran.
I asked Belgian Ambassador to Tehran Véronique Petit to comment on the apparent confliction of positions for this article. She declined via the Belgian Embassy on the grounds that it is a “judicial case,” even though the matter is political and she represents all branches of the Kingdom of Belgium in Iran.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry says the unlawful jail term issued in Belgium against an Iranian diplomat is a clear violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
It is worth noting that the accusation against Mr. Assadi is that he was involved in a bomb plot against an anti-Iran group known as the MKO, or more commonly the MEK, a small cult of deranged individuals who have spent most of their lives confined to camps wishing to topple the Iranian government. Their leader, a demented woman who teaches celibacy and armed opposition to Iran, views herself as Iran’s president-in-waiting. The Israeli regime is known to have tapped healthier MKO members to conduct terror attacks inside Iran.
Of course Iran has rejected the accusation against Mr. Assadi and demanded his swift release. (The international convention protecting his diplomatic immunity is, ironically, named after the capital of the European country where he was posted to.) His prosecution comes at a time when there are hopes the parties to the Iran deal could move to revive the agreement in light of the change of administration in the United States. When Mr. Borrell advocated “maxim diplomacy” with Iran, he said it should replace the former Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the country.
That is a long way from happening. But Mr. Borrell has seemed eager to work to that end. He has already traveled to Russia and China, the two parties to the deal that are not Western-aligned. Crucially though, the simple question is: who is he speaking for when he speaks of “maximum diplomacy” with Iran while Union members are holding an Iranian diplomat?
The Union may justify by saying it cannot impose policy on individual members, which would take us back to the inherent absurdity at the heart of the EU. If Union members can do something that is contrary to stated Union policy, how can they exist as a union?! The EU can either want to pursue “maximum diplomacy” with Iran or hold an Iranian diplomat hostage. It cannot do both at the same time.
By Hossein Jelveh
(Hossein Jelveh is an independent Iranian journalist based in Tehran. He has graduated with a master’s degree from the Faculty of World Studies at the University of Tehran. You can follow him on Twitter @hossein_jelveh.)
(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)