Mustafa Fahs

Iran And European Public Opinion

Not only is the probability of an agreement between Iran and Europe declining day after day, but so is the likelihood of containing escalation between the two, which is hindering their ability to prevent them from making difficult choices. This could lead to strategic changes to the traditional European approach to dealing with Iran, its geopolitical position, regional influence, and even the energy markets’ need for its resources.

The Europeans are almost unanimous in their support for taking a less flexible approach to the negotiations with Tehran. We have seen several indications that they will take hardline decisions because of international developments that imposed themselves on the relationship they used to have. These developments have pushed countries known for their historically lax, sometimes even indulgent, positions on Iran to suggest that they will be taking stern measures against the regime’s major institutions.

In her speech at the Davos Summit last Tuesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen voiced her support for adding the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to the EU terror list. Her position will probably pave the way for ratifying a German proposal to add the IRGC to the list that was put forward a while ago. This proposal is supported by the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Moreover, France - which had had warmer relations with Iran than any other EU country before the Ukrainian war - is expected to present a similar proposal during the EU Commission Meeting next week, laying the groundwork for subsequent meetings between European foreign ministers.

The reversal of the European collective position is not only the result of the war in Ukraine and Iran supplying Moscow with drones used to bomb Ukrainian cities. This matter, despite its strategic significance, is seen by the West as a mistake that Iran had made and that cannot go unpunished. However, the EU Commissioners or the negotiators working on the Iran deal in Vienna (or anywhere else) could impose it as a clause in an upcoming round of negotiations with Iran.

Nonetheless, another issue weighing on ties between Iran and the EU is more complicated to resolve. European public opinion regarding Iran has shifted. They no longer recognize many of the positives that had once been seen in Iran, and negatives have been highlighted far more than they had been in the past when they had sometimes been intentionally overlooked. This comes after the protests that have been shaking the country, as the European public is extremely sympathetic to the slogans of freedom and justice that the protesters have raised, especially those tied to women’s rights.

It could be said that the changes in European public opinion were reflected in the European Parliamentary session in Strasbourg, where Tehran received a clear and strong warning that not only addressed its domestic affairs but the backbone of the regime- the sources of its foreign influence and the primary negotiator in the nuclear deal talks, the IRGC. Two days ago, 598 out of the 638 members of the European Parliament voted to approve the request of the European Union and member states to include the IRGC on the European terror list.

Although European Parliament decisions are not binding for the EU members that will meet on the 27th of March, foreign policymakers in Europe can no longer overlook the human rights violations being perpetrated by the regime’s security apparatus, especially the IRGC, against protesters at home; nor can they ignore the drones Iran is sending Moscow for use in its war against Kyiv. Thus, the European Parliament effectively signaled to European leaders that they must account for the position of the European public regarding the IRGC. This could be considered a dangerous precedent in the history of European relations with the Islamic regime in Iran, and it has pushed Tehran to warn of dire consequences ensuing because of this decision.

Thus, from the executions of activists to the wave of arrests targeting Europeans residing in Iran or Iranians with dual nationality, there are many indications that the Iranian regime is on a path that will leave it losing many of the privileges it had had in Europe. The continent’s elites, using historical and civilizational pretexts, had long been under the illusion that they could coexist with a regime like that in Iran. However, the regime had been merely exploiting its history and culture to infiltrate European societies.