Sist helg feiret EU sine 50 år med en deklarasjon med mange store ord. Mange lurer på hvorfor europeere er så lunkne til EU. Men nå sitter 15 briter som fanger i Iran, og det er såvidt britene lurer på om de tør spørre Tyskland, Frankrike og Italia om de vil suspendere regjeringsgarantiene som Iran nyter godt av.
Timothy Garton Ash reiser det høyst berettigede spørsmål: hvor er den europeiske solidariteten? EU-landene kan nemlig gjøre noe konkret og effektivt: suspendere, eller true med å fjerne regjeringsgarantiene for eksport til Iran. De er formidable.
But there is something Europe should do: flex its economic muscles. The EU is by far Iran’s biggest trading partner. More than 40% of its imports come from, and more than a quarter of its exports go to, the EU. Remarkably, this trade has grown strongly in the last years of looming crisis. Much of it is underpinned by export credit guarantees given by European governments, notably those of Germany, France and Italy. According to the most recent figures available from the German economics ministry, Iran is Germany’s third-largest beneficiary of export credit guarantees, outdone only by Russia and China. Iran comes second to none in terms of the proportion of German exports - in recent years up to 65% - underwritten by the German government.
The total government underwriting commitment in 2005 was €5.8bn (£3.9bn), more than for Russia or China. As the squeeze grows on Iran from UN sanctions and their knock-on effects, and as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fails to deliver on his populist economic promises, this European trade becomes ever more vital for the Iranian regime - and ever more dependent on European government guarantees to counterbalance the growing political risk.
In the Commons yesterday a former foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, asked if Britain’s European friends - and Germany, France and Italy in particular - might be prevailed upon to convey to Iran, perhaps privately in the first instance, the possibility that such export credit guarantees would be temporarily suspended until the kidnapped Europeans are freed. I gather that if such private pressure is not forthcoming, Britain might be tempted to raise the suggestion more formally at a meeting of European foreign ministers in Bremen this weekend.
So here’s a challenge for the German presidency of the European Union: will you put your money where your mouth is? Or are all your Sunday speeches about European solidarity in the cause of peace and freedom not even worth the paper they are written on?
Så lenge EU ikke står opp for hverandre i slike kritiske situasjoner, forblir EU-retorikken tomt prat.