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Weathering the Geopolitical Storms: The Ever-elusive Success of EU Policy towards Iran


Between 2003 and 2022, European Union policy towards Iran was the result of continuous course corrections made by EU institutions and member states to dodge internal disagreements and navigate the agitated waters of a region – the Middle East and the Gulf – mired in multipolar competition and beset by fragmented governance arrangements. A comprehensive review of official documents, relevant literature and interviews conducted with Iranian and European officials and experts demonstrates that a combination of prioritisation, compartmentalisation and multilateralisation kept EU foreign and security policy towards Iran on a fairly proactive and coherent course for almost twenty years. However, the forces unleashed by the United States’ withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and more recently by Iran’s collusion in Russia’s war on Ukraine as well as the turmoil inside the Islamic Republic itself put the limits of the EU’s capacity to mitigate the effects of geopolitical rivalries, Middle Eastern fragmentation and intra-EU contestation on its Iran policy in sharp relief.
Keywords: EU foreign and security policy; multipolar competition; Middle East geopolitics; EU-Iran relations; nuclear non-proliferation

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