European Union (EU) leaders meeting in Sofia have authorised the Commission in Brussels to take steps to protect the interests of companies operating in Iran.

The move follows President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal, signed by the United Nations as well as the P5+1 members of the Security Council; UK, France, China, US, Russia and Germany, which paved the way for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) for sanctions to be lifted against Iran.

France in particular has several industrial titans with major business in Iran, namely Renault, PSA, Airbus and Total, with the EU's move following urgent talks between Paris and 60 companies working with Tehran.

"In Sofia, we saw a show of European unity," said European Commission (EC) president, Jean-Claude Junker. "As long as the Iranians respect their commitments, the EU will of course stick to the agreement of which it was an architect - an agreement that was unanimously ratified by the UN Security Council and which is essential for preserving peace in the region and the world.

"But the American sanctions will not be without effect. So we have the duty, the Commission and the EU, to do what we can to protect our European businesses, especially SMEs."

Specifically, the EC has proposed several measures:

  • Launched the formal process to activate the Blocking Statute by updating the list of US sanctions on Iran falling within its scope. The Blocking Statute forbids EU companies from complying with the extraterritorial effects of US sanctions, allows companies to recover damages arising from such sanctions from the person causing them, and nullifies the effect in the EU of any foreign court judgements based on them.
  • The aim is to have the measure in force before 6 August 2018, when the first batch of US sanctions take effect.
  • Launched the formal process to remove obstacles for the European Investment Bank (EIB) to decide under the EU budget guarantee to finance activities outside the European Union, in Iran. This will allow the EIB to support EU investment in Iran and could be useful in particular for small and medium-sized companies. All relevant rules and procedures will apply to individual financial operations.
  • The European Parliament and the Council will have a period of two months to object to these measures, once proposed, before they enter into force. This period can be shorter if both Institutions signal their non-objection before the end of the period. The processes can be ended if political circumstances no longer justify the adoption of the measures.
  • As confidence building measures, the Commission will continue and strengthen the ongoing sectoral cooperation with, and assistance to, Iran, including in the energy sector and with regard to small and medium-sized companies.
  • Financial assistance through the Development Cooperation or Partnership Instruments will also be mobilised.
  • The Commission is encouraging Member States to explore the possibility of one-off bank transfers to the Central Bank of Iran. This approach could help the Iranian authorities to receive their oil-related revenues, particularly in case of US sanctions which could target EU entities active in oil transactions with Iran.