Relations between the EU and Iran have been through different stages and over the last decade, conditioned by the international dispute over Iran's nuclear programme, and the consequent sanctions regime that was put in place.
Negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme resulted in an agreement on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 14 July 2015 by the E3+3 (EU, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia China and the United States) with Iran. The agreement is aimed at ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme while providing for the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions as well as EU and US sanctions related to Iran's nuclear programme.
The Foreign Affairs Council of 20 July 2015, endorsed the JCPOA and also expressed the expectation that this “positive development will open the door to a steady improvement in relations between the European Union, its Member States and Iran, as well as improved Iranian regional and international relations (…)”.
On 16 January 2016, the EU lifted all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions against Iran. This followed verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had implemented the agreed nuclear-related measures as set out in the JCPOA.
The conclusion and implementation of the JCPOA has opened the way for a renewal of broader relations. This welcome development allows the EU and Iran to start a gradual engagement, which will take place on the basis of the full implementation of the JCPOA by Iran.
Following the High Level Dialogue held on 8-9 February 2016 at Vice-Minister/Political Director level, where future areas of cooperation between the EU and Iran were identified and a joint exploratory mission on energy, research and innovation related issues on 16-17 February, the High Representative/Vice-President will now visit Iran together with seven Commissioners with the objective of laying the basis for future cooperation covering a wide variety of sectors and issues.
This visit will also allow for greater exchanges on global and regional issues of mutual interest, in particular how to contribute to a more stable and secure region. The EU also attaches great importance to being able to have frank exchanges on human rights issues which should be part of the renewed EU-Iran dialogue.
Under the JCPOA, a Joint Commission was established consisting of all members of the E3/EU+3 and Iran. The High Representative/Vice-President will coordinate the work of the Joint Commission which will oversee the implementation of the agreement.
Human rights in Iran remain a concern. Engaging Iran on human rights will be a core component of our relationship and our agreed political dialogues.
Economy – trade
In terms of trade and investment, reengagement with Iran will create opportunities on both sides. While in 2004 the EU exports to Iran were reaching the level of almost €12 billion, due to the sanctions they dropped by 46% to less than €6.5 billion in 2014. Recognising the importance of the global trading system, the EU is particularly supportive with regard to Iran's willingness to join the WTO.
With the objective of a full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), including its Annex III on nuclear co-operation, the EU will aim to develop durable relations with Iran in the nuclear field. The initial focus will be on nuclear safety matters aimed at strengthening the regulatory and legislative framework.
Cooperation on wider energy issues could aim at promoting and improving the business and investment climate and exploring the potential of Iran for Europe's energy security given its large gas and oil reserves. It could also comprise an increased use of clean energy and efficient energy demand management, and encouraging transparent, rule-based and well-functioning regional and global energy markets.
Iran has many environmental challenges, water scarcity, land degradation and air pollution being the more prevalent. An effective response to these challenges requires both regional and multilateral co-operation. The EU will engage with Iran to enhance the protection of the environment.
Potential areas of cooperation range from industry and services sectors, SME policy and business environment. This could facilitate the development of Iranian companies and the creation of jobs and at the same time support European companies wishing to do business in Iran. Concrete ways of cooperation will be examined in other sectors, such as construction/infrastructures, SME development, tourism and creative industries.
The EU and Iran are important agricultural producers. There is a potential to strengthen the bilateral links in the interests of both by promoting each other's food products in the respective markets and enhancing agri-business investment. As partners they shall also promote cooperation on agricultural policies and sharing sector know-how.
An efficient, safe and secure transport system is key to facilitate trade, investment and connectivity. Regulatory issues and aviation safety will be two priorities. Further cooperation activities in the fields of rail, maritime, road and urban transport also offer potential for future cooperation.
Education and Culture
Iran is taking part in Erasmus+ for the Middle East (between 2007-2013 323 scholarships were awarded, and 10 Iranian academic institutions took part) with an overall amount of these ongoing activities estimated at €10 million. Cooperation in the field of higher education can be stepped up. The EU and Iran have remarkably rich cultures and can greatly benefit from exchanges and cooperation in the cultural field.
Research and innovation
Science, research and innovation are particularly promising areas of cooperation under the framework of Horizon 2020, which is open to participation from Iranian public and private entities. Collaboration in the area of renewable energy, climate change and bio-economy are also possibilities.
International Cooperation and Development
As an upper middle income country, the bulk of development cooperation with Iran is implemented through thematic programmes. Iran is involved in the "Support to the Silk Routes Partnership for Migration under the Budapest Process" (which improves basic structures in migration management). The country also benefits from activities under the Climate Technology Centre and Network initiative. The European Commission has just adopted a new project of €5 million euro in the area of nuclear safety cooperation, which is in line with the provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that foresees civil nuclear cooperation in specific technical areas. The project will support the regulatory authority of Iran in reviewing the regulatory framework and building technical capacity by transferring EU expertise, support regional outreach and the establishment of a nuclear safety center in Iran.
After decades of protracted displacement of Afghans, Iran is hosting an estimated 980.000 documented refugees and asylum seekers (UNHCR, June 2015) and between 1.5 and 2 million undocumented ones. The European Commission has been continuously providing humanitarian aid to refugees and asylum seekers in Iran. Between 2002 and 2015, the European Commission allocated € 10.5 million to Afghan Refugee programmes in Iran and this assistance will increase in the future.
Iran has an important regional role. The EU will engage to encourage tangible and constructive steps that would help make an improved regional situation a reality, including by helping find solutions to regional challenges.
 EU sanctions related to Human Rights and sanctions related to Syria or counter-terrorism are still in place as they were outside the scope of the JCPOA.