Just a few days after U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, France’s economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, gave several interviews in which he stressed that European leaders would be asking themselves, “What can we do to give Europe more financial tools allowing it to be independent from the United States?” Le Maire specifically pointed to the U.S. Treasury’s fearsome Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions and has levied billions of dollars’ worth of fines on companies such as BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered Bank, and the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE. He wondered aloud, “Why don’t we create the same type of agency in Europe, capable of following the activities of foreign companies and checking if they are respecting European decisions?”
The comment seemed flippant, an economy minister’s way of expressing frustration, and was not viewed as a policy that Europe was about to seriously consider. Yet, a few weeks later, European leaders are still scrambling to implement concrete measures to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, whether by sustaining oil purchases from Iran, instructing the European Investment Bank to make financing available for projects in Iran, or attempting to help multinationals and small and medium-sized enterprises maintain their Iran operations. But consultations with government officials, business leaders, and technical experts make it clear that pursuing individual measures in isolation will be insufficient to mitigate the chilling effect of secondary sanctions imposed by the United States on companies which had sought commercial links with Iran. Europe needs a holistic and institutionalized strategy to push back and achieve two crucial goals.
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