The creation of a European special purpose vehicle to facilitate legal trade with Iran is the expected political signal that Europe is not willing to bow to US extraterritorial sanctions. Three European leaders — Germany, France and Great Britain — came together to found the Paris-based "Instrument for the Support of Trade Exchange" (INSTEX). If it takes shape, more states will join. This political act of will is needed in order to convince Tehran that the EU is sticking to the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran so that it will continue to exist, despite America's withdrawal.
The project is no small feat. Before the special purpose vehicle can conduct business between European companies and Iran — that is, before it can become operational — its founding members, as well as Per Fischer, the German director of INSTEX, will have to carry out complicated preparatory work to set the stage for its rollout.
INSTEX must first concretely formulate which services it will offer interested companies. For this, INSTEX will need to determine how great a need there is and who is interested, not least in order to give the Iranians time to implement necessary steps. Tehran must deliver goods that are suitable for such an exchange.
Protection mechanisms crucial
But INSTEX cannot only function as an exchange platform that somehow offsets goods between each side. The companies will want to secure their deliveries, for example against the insolvency risk of the company involved in the exchange. Will INSTEX also cover this?
Crucial for INSTEX's success will be whether participating states also develop mechanisms for European companies and their employees that protect them from the expected American sanctions and compensate for any damages incurred. The legislative instrument for this exists: The EU's blocking statute. It just needs to be updated to meet the new requirements.
International transactions independent of the dollar
The knowledge and experience gained in the process could later be transferred to other areas, such as European initiatives in international monetary transactions. This expertise could then come in handy for establishing payment channels independent of the American financial system and the dollar, which the US also uses as a lever in its sanctions policy.
That's why the establishment of the special purpose vehicle for contravening US sanctions holds considerable significance that goes beyond the current case of Iran. Today, it's Tehran — but with it, Europe is for the first time testing its capabilities in terms of not bowing to the extraterritorial sanctions of other governments.