European Union funds repressive regime in Iran

The Jerusalem Post (www.jpost.com) has an interesting article on how the European Union is streaming millions of dollars to Iran.

In fact, to ensure that European firms were left in no doubt about their governments' desires, the EU even passed legislation making it illegal for European companies to comply with the US boycott on doing business with Iran. The result is that the EU is now Iran's largest trading partner and most of these deals put money straight into the regime's pockets.

For instance, three European oil companies Royal Dutch/Shell, Eni SpA and TotalFinaElf have invested some $10.5 billion in developing new Iranian oil fields since 1997. These investments cannot be justified as a means of encouraging the Iranian private sector, since they are direct partnerships with the Iranian government. And they have provided Iran's state treasury, which receives 50%-70% of the profits (the rest goes to the foreign investors), with billions of extra dollars in oil revenue to spend on repressing its citizens. [...]

European hypocrisy has caused great suffering to Israel, as EU money has played a major role in the PA's terrorist war against this country. But Europe's hypocrisy has arguably caused even greater suffering to millions of Iranians, Palestinians and others all those whose vicious, repressive governments are propped up with European cash.

I copy the full article below.





A bond of hypocrisy
The Jerusalem Post, EVELYN GORDON, July 15, 2002
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/
Satellite?pagename=JPost/
A/JPArticle/Full&cid=1025787792452

Last week, the European Union finally convinced me that its bizarre love affair with the Palestinian Authority truly has nothing to do with being anti-Israel.

I always found it hard to otherwise explain why a group of liberal democracies that claims to put human rights above all else should be so enamored of a corrupt, oppressive, terrorist dictatorship.

But it turns out that the EU simply loves all oppressive Middle East dictatorships indiscriminately. Its recent behavior toward Iran leaves no doubt about the matter.

Iran, despite having a typically repressive Middle Eastern regime (albeit theocratic rather than secular), is nevertheless unique because it also has the only serious pro-democracy movement in the region. Reformists are continually being jailed for criticizing the regime, but after finishing their sentences they go straight back to uttering vocal criticisms.

Student activists who were brutally beaten and jailed during a wave of demonstrations three years ago have regrouped and are now planning university-wide "referenda" on controversial questions such as whether to eliminate the clerics' veto on parliamentary decisions.

And Iran has the freest press in the Middle East not because the regime permits it, but because stubborn, courageous editors and publishers, despite periodic jail terms, keep opening new papers to replace those that are shut down.
Where else in the Middle East do newspapers receive and print! letters to the editor demanding that the government stop funneling money to Hizbullah and start investing in education and job creation instead?

In a country where so much liberal activism is clashing head-on with so much repression, the response of the world's self-proclaimed champion of human rights should be obvious: Fund the reformists and starve the regime.

Yet the EU has been doing precisely the opposite: It has actively encouraged European companies to invest in projects that funnel money to the Iranian government.

In fact, to ensure that European firms were left in no doubt about their governments' desires, the EU even passed legislation making it illegal for European companies to comply with the US boycott on doing business with Iran.

The result is that the EU is now Iran's largest trading partner and most of these deals put money straight into the regime's pockets.

For instance, three European oil companies Royal Dutch/Shell, Eni SpA and TotalFinaElf have invested some $10.5 billion in developing new Iranian oil fields since 1997. These investments cannot be justified as a means of encouraging the Iranian private sector, since they are direct partnerships with the Iranian government. And they have provided Iran's state treasury, which receives 50%-70% of the profits (the rest goes to the foreign investors), with billions of extra dollars in oil revenue to spend on repressing its citizens.

Not content with this, last month the EU's foreign ministers agreed to seek a formal trade and economic cooperation pact with Iran without imposing any conditions regarding an improvement in Teheran's human rights record.

BUT THE climax came last week, when the Iranian government held its first foreign bond issue since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Money raised through the sale of government bonds obviously goes directly into the state treasury meaning it is used to fund the salaries of the police who beat up student demonstrators, and to build the jails into which reform-minded journalists are thrown. (It also pays for the Katyusha rockets and bombs with which Teheran supplies Hizbullah and Palestinian terror organizations, but even the highest stickler would not expect the EU to concern itself with that.)
A bond issue does not even offer the pitiful excuse available to the oil deals: that of creating jobs for ordinary Iranians.

Thus, if ever there was an event in which nations that claim to care about human rights should refuse to participate, last week's bond issue was it.

Instead, the 500 million euro ($497.1 million) issue was underwritten by two major European banks, Germany's Commerzbank AG and France's BNP Paribas SA. And 40% of the issue which was oversubscribed by more than 20% was snapped up by European (primarily German and British) institutional investors (Middle Eastern buyers took most of the rest).

European hypocrisy has caused great suffering to Israel, as EU money has played a major role in the PA's terrorist war against this country. But Europe's hypocrisy has arguably caused even greater suffering to millions of Iranians, Palestinians and others all those whose vicious, repressive governments are propped up with European cash.

Were the EU ever to put its money where its mouth is i.e. to make its trade and investment policies at least minimally conformable to its pious platitudes on human rights it would provide an incalculable boost for democracy and freedom in the region.

Unfortunately, that seems about as likely as Saddam Hussein voluntarily ceding power.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator.

Posted by David Melle
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