Sep 04, 2018

Iran: Commission Rushes Parliament for Last Minute DCI Deal

On Wednesday 29 August 2018, the Committee on Development (DEVE) and the European Commission met to discuss a newly agreed cooperation deal with Iran. Linda McAvan (S&D), the Rapporteur for the Opinion, chaired the exchange of views while Pierre Amilhat from the Commission answered MEPs’ questions.

The special measure for Iran, which is worth 18 million euros, was introduced by Linda McAvan. The budget is split between 8 million for trade-related technical assistance, 8 million for environmental service - such as fighting air and water pollution, stopping soil degradation and dealing with waste -  and the remaining 2 million for health interventions, particularly for people with HIV/AIDS.

McAvn raised two primary concerns in regards to the deal. Firstly, the committee secretariat had received the notice of the special measure with very short notice and in a period where parliamentarians were out of office, meaning that the procedure had to be rushed through very quickly. Secondly, it was questioned whether the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) was the right instrument for a deal with Iran, considering its status as an upper-middle income country.

The DCI’s prime objective is the reduction of poverty. It also contributes to the achievement of the EU External Action Service’s other goals, in particular fostering sustainable economic, social and environmental development as well as promoting democracy, the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights.

Charles Goerens (ALDE) raised the question of whether this instrument could be offered conditionally, provided Iran committed to respecting human rights but it seems that, much like the Iranian Nuclear Deal, the European Commission and the Parliament will fail to hold Iran responsible once more.

This attitude is not limited to Iran: Europeans continue their development aid to Myanmar despite the fact that current events there have been recognised as a genocide by UN and the country remains under military control.  

Several speakers raised the issue that DEVE and other committees, as well as the Parliament in general, did not have time to exercise their scrutiny rights. The notice was first received on July 19th, despite the special measure needing to be put to the member states by the end of that same month. Additionally, this was a week of external parliamentary activities, meaning that parliamentarians were not in office. There was a genuine suspicion from DEVE that the matter had been rushed through in order to avoid parliament scrutiny.

McAvan summarised her concern by commenting that, if the Commission used this approach because of the possibility that they would not receive Parliament’s approval, how could they expect  MEPs to convince voters that public funds for combating poverty had been used to help country like Iran which, along with a high rate of human right violations, qualified as a higher income country?

Several parliamentarians underlined that the issue did not concern cooperation with Iran in general, but whether the DCI was the right instrument for engagement. Considering that Iran has never had access to EU development funds, it was suggested that other mechanisms would have been more suitable, such as the partnership instrument. Additionally, the Commission’s policy of differentiation and Iran’s ongoing human rights violations were raised as concerns.

Amilhat underlined that there was no ill intention from the Commission. He argued that everything the Commission does is based on the strong political approach of European Union member states. In light of the insecurity created by the US announcement to withdraw from the Iranian Nuclear Deal in May 2018, EU members reaffirmed their support for the deal, approving measures to defend European economic operators and to pursue continued economic engagement and sectoral cooperation with Iran.

Amilhat’s justification for the fast track procedure was the necessity to demonstrate the EU’s commitment to Iran and the Nuclear Deal.

Amilhat argued that the environmental situation in Iran is extremely dire, that it had had its worst drought in 50 years, as well as being plagued by incredible air pollution and dust storms, which are destroying the livelihoods of many. The economic crisis is additionally of grave concern, with the currency having lost over half its value in the last six months and additional sanctions coming up. He argues that these are all themes that were part of the Parliament’s October 2016 resolution, making it clear that everything this special measure is proposing are areas of need that have already been particularly and specifically identified by the European Parliament. Finally, he argued that all the criteria of the DCI are fulfilled and that the Commission has already provided explanations for its reasoning. There is a certain flexibility within the DCI, which justifies possible exceptions and derogations, and which has also previously allowed cooperation with other countries such as Iraq, which is also considered an upper-middle income economy.

Regardless, it seemed that MEPs were unconvinced by the explanations on how this instrument with be apply in relation with Iran.

As for UNPO’s position, from our past experiences with states that receive European aid, only the dominant ruling group benefit from such programs. In the case of Iran, the most damaged provinces where urgent action is needed are the Ahwaz region (officially named Khuzestan) and Baluchistan.

These two minority regions suffer from water shortage and constant sandstorms, yet the Iranian regime does not allow European experts to visit them. Most of the projects subsidised by European funds will be implemented in Iran’s central regions, which UNPO has already explained as one of the hidden costs of European investment in Iran.

Not conditioning the fund to minimum respect of human and minority rights will not only be of no help to the Iranian people but will make the situation more difficult, especially considering that since the beginning of the year Iranian people have been protesting for change.

Photo courtesy of AP.