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EUROPEAN UNION

EU to consider sanctions on Iran for failed attack plots in France, Denmark

EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed to examine possible sanctions against Iran over two foiled attacks in Europe blamed on Iranian intelligence, as demands grow for tough action against Tehran.

EU to consider sanctions on Iran for failed attack plots in France, Denmark
An attempt to assassinate a resident of Denmark, linked to an Iranian intelligence operation, was behind a large-scale police action in September. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

France has hit two suspected Iranian agents with asset freezes over a plot to bomb a rally near Paris, while Denmark has called for a coordinated EU response to a foiled murder bid on its soil.

The move came as 150 MEPs slammed the bloc's “silence” over the plots as well as human rights abuse in Iran and called for steps to hold Tehran to account.

Up to now the EU has trod cautiously on Iran as it seeks to save the beleaguered nuclear deal with Tehran, after the US withdrew from it earlier this year and reimposed sanctions.

Copenhagen has been consulting EU partners about economic sanctions against Tehran after Danish intelligence accused Iran of planning to murder three Iranian dissidents in Denmark.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels discussed the incident and decided to press ahead with work on sanctions.

“What happened (in Denmark) was completely unacceptable and this was clearly stated by all of us,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters.

“The council will take forward some work to explore appropriate targeted responses in light of what has happened in Danish territory.”

The measures could include adopting at EU level the sanctions France imposed last month on two suspected Iranian agents and others from Iran's ministry of intelligence and security.

France's security services concluded that the head of operations at the Iranian intelligence ministry had ordered a plot to bomb a rally of the People's Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) opposition group in a suburb of Paris in June.

Iran has been blamed in the past for attacks in countries as far afield as Argentina, India and Thailand, and French officials say Tehran is also suspected of carrying out “several” assassinations of opposition figures in Europe since 2015.

READ ALSO: Trio arrested in Denmark for praising Iran parade attack

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KEY POINTS: Is the EU really planning to double the price of Swedish snus?

Claims over the weekend that the EU planned to bring in a new tax which will nearly double the price of Swedish 'snus' tobacco led to the hashtag #Swexit trending over the weekend. But a commission spokesman stressed on Monday that the story was inaccurate.

KEY POINTS: Is the EU really planning to double the price of Swedish snus?

Where does the claim come from? 

The Aftonbladet newspaper on Sunday ran a story based around a “secret, leaked” proposal from the European Commission for a new excise tax on tobacco which the newspaper claimed would be presented at the start of next month, with discussion then taking place between various EU member states. 

The article does not name a source or quote from or show any parts of the document, but it quotes Patrik Hildingsson, the head of communications at the snus producer Swedish Match, who it says has “received the coming report”. 

What was the reaction? 

The story generated a near viral response on Swedish Twitter. The Sweden Democrats party jumped on the story, with the Twitter account for the party’s EU MEPs tweeting using the hashtag #Swexit, which then started to trend. 

According to Charlie Weimers, one of the Sweden Democrats’ MEPs, the commission is proposing a 12.5 percent increase in tax on cigarettes, a 200 percent increase in taxes on snus, and 500 percent increase in taxes on tobacco-free snus.

In a way, this is unsurprising as snus is used by about 17 percent of people in Sweden. The tobacco product is made by grinding up tobacco with flavourings and other ingredients and placing it in small bags which are pushed under the upper lip. It has been linked to a higher incidence of mouth cancer, but is much less dangerous than smoking. 

Why is snus sensitive for Sweden? 

When Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, it was granted an exemption from the ban on oral tobacco products the European Union had brought in back in 1992. Companies are allowed to manufacture snus in Sweden and sell it to their citizens, but they are not allowed to sell snus in other EU counties.  

Is it true that the European Commission plans to force higher tax on snus? 

Dan Ferrie, a European spokesperson on tax issues, told the EU’s daily press briefing on Monday that the commission’s coming proposals on tobacco taxation would not affect Sweden’s freedom to tax the product. 

“Sweden has had an exemption since it entered the EU when it comes to the sale of snus,” he said. “The proposal that we are working on right now is not going to change that situation because the sale of snus is not permitted outside Sweden. Sweden ill as a result continue to have full freedom to set its own tax rate and tariffs for snus.” 

Already on Sunday, Sweden’s EU commissioner Ylva Johansson said that she had stressed to the commission developing the new proposals the “unreasonable consequences for Swedish snus” if it were to force a higher tax rate. 

“My judgement is that this proposal has not yet been developed to the level where it can be proposed,” she said in an sms to Swedish state TV broadcaster SVT. “Tax questions require unanimity within the Ministerial Council.”

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