Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) - French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has called on Europe to move “from words to actions” in standing up to US unilaterally imposed sanctions on Iran that will gravely damage EU businesses and France in particular. His remarks echo the words of President Macron and the French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drain? who has called US actions “unacceptable”.

Le Maire put forward three main proposals starting with an EU-wide blocking statute similar to an EU regulation passed in 1996 designed to nullify any US sanctions imposed on EU firms trading in Cuba. The statute permitted European companies to ignore the US sanctions and said that any decisions by foreign courts based on the such sanctions would not be upheld in Europe. The US backed down before any sanctions were implemented. «We want to reinforce this regulation and incorporate the recent decisions taken by the United States,” Le Maire said.

He added: “The second avenue is looking at Europe’s financial independence – what can we do to give Europe more financial tools allowing it to be independent from the United States?” One proposal is to set up a purely European finance house to oversee euro-denominated transactions with Iran.

He also proposed a European agency capable of following the activities of foreign companies. Le Maire said he would meet with German and British finance ministers at the end of the month to discuss these proposals.

Rather less dramatically Le Maire disclosed that he had already called the US Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, urging him to allow exemptions for French companies or a delay in implementing the sanctions, while admitting he had “few illusions” about the likely response.

The one thing that Le Maire did not propose was direct counter measures against US firms. It is however the one thing that is likely to be effective.

The problem the EU faces, since the successful 1996 measures, is the arrival as members of Poland and the Baltic States that often show a greater loyalty to the United States than to Europe. Equally there is little chance of Britain acting decisively first because it does little trade with Iran and secondly it is no frame of mind to defy the United States whilst negotiating Brexit.

Germany on the other hand shows every sign of fast losing patience with the US but from there to taking decisive action is a very big step, particularly as they are already heavily involved with difficulties surrounding the finalizing of the setting up of the gas pipeline Nordstream 2, which is vital for German business.

It is also questionable if any EU member is prepared to exchange its extensive commerce with the US against relatively marginal business with Iran. The EU has a large favorable trade balance with the United States.

Despite considerable resentment at US behavior, the chances of the EU standing up to President Trump on this particular issue remain poor.

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