By William Horobin and Birgit Jennen
Germany and France say they are working on financing solutions to sidestep US sanctions against countries such as Iran, including a possible role for central banks.
The discussions, which also involve the UK, are a signal that European powers are trying to get serious about demonstrating a greater level of independence from the US as president Donald Trump pursues his ‘America First’ agenda.
“With Germany, we are determined to work on an independent European or Franco-German financing tool which would allow us to avoid being the collateral victims of US extra-territorial sanctions,” said French finance minister Bruno Le Maire during a meeting with press association AJEF.
“I want Europe to be a sovereign continent not a vassal, and that means having totally independent financing instruments that do not today exist.”
Mr Trump reimposed the sanctions after pulling the US out of the Iran nuclear accord in May, despite opposition from Nato allies and China and Russia.
European companies have halted activity or backtracked on investment plans to avoid US punishment but France and Germany and their EU partners want business with Iran to continue.
The US is targeting Iranian oil exports as it pushes demands for the government in Tehran to stop supporting terrorism and halt its ballistic-missile programme. President Hassan Rouhani has said the US needs to ease sanctions before he would agree to any talks.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas also weighed in, saying the EU is working to protect economic ties with Iran and keep payment channels open. Mr Maas reiterated a proposal to make international payments systems like Swift more independent of the US.
Mr Le Maire said using the European Investment Bank, which has exposure to the US, as a “financial channel” would be “very complicated”, and that the French and German governments are talking to their central banks about their involvement. “If we want to build a truly independent instrument, we must open up all the options.”
Mr Maas said while most of the difficult questions on the details of any payments system are unresolved, at least the alternative of a nuclear escalation in the Middle East has so far been avoided.