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EUROPEAN UNION

Denmark backs EU over Iran sanctions after murder plots

The EU hit Iran's intelligence services with sanctions Tuesday after accusing Tehran of being behind plots to assassinate regime opponents on Dutch, Danish and French soil.

Denmark backs EU over Iran sanctions after murder plots
Danish police temporarily closed bridges during a security operation on September 28th. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The move by the 28-nation bloc was announced as the Dutch government said it believed Iran was behind the murders of two dissidents in 2015 and 2017.

“Very encouraging that (the) EU has just agreed on new targeted sanctions against Iran in response to hostile activities and plots being planned and perpetrated in Europe, including Denmark,” Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said.

The “EU stands united — such actions are unacceptable and must have consequences,” he tweeted.

Sanctions include the freezing of funds and other financial assets of the Iranian intelligence ministry and individuals, officials said.

“No other countries have parts of their intelligence services on a terror list [in the EU, ed.]. So this is a very clear signal,” Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said according to Ritzau’s report, adding that the sanctions, which come into effect Wednesday, will “have consequences for those who cooperate with (the targets of the sanctions)”.

But Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pointed the finger at European nations he said were harbouring terrorists.

“Accusing Iran does not release Europe from its responsibility for hosting terrorists,” he said in a tweet.

Denmark led efforts for sanctions after allegations that Tehran tried to kill three Iranian dissidents on Danish soil.

According to Danish police intelligence agency PET, Iran planned to carry out an operation against a group of exiled Iranians in the town of Ringsted on Zealand.

A manhunt related to the alleged plot against three Iranians suspected of belonging to the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA) led to the shutdown of bridges to Sweden, as well as ferries, on September 28th.

France last year imposed sanctions on two suspected Iranian agents and others from Iran's intelligence and security ministry.

The French 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 last year — which Tehran strongly denied.

“When the sanctions were announced, the Netherlands, together with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Denmark and Belgium, met Iranian authorities,” Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said.

The meeting conveyed “serious concerns regarding Iran's probable involvement in these hostile acts on EU territory,” Blok said in a letter to parliament in The Hague, also signed by Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren.

“Iran is expected to cooperate fully in removing the present concerns and, where necessary, aiding in criminal investigations,” the letter said.

“If such cooperation is not forthcoming, further sanctions cannot be ruled out,” it added.

The EU has previously trodden cautiously on Iran as it sought to save a beleaguered nuclear deal with Tehran after the US withdrew last year and imposed new sanctions.

Dutch ministers said that at a meeting with Iranian officials “it was emphasised that the measures were not linked” to the Iran nuclear deal.

“Nevertheless, Iran will be held to account for all matters that affect EU and international security interests” including the 2015 and 2017 assassinations in the Netherlands, the letter said.

“We will continue to support the nuclear agreement provided that Iran complies with it. The agency that is monitoring this says that they are. It is also in European interests for the agreement to be kept,” Samuelsen commented.

Tehran blames the ASMLA for an attack on a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahvaz on September 22nd, when militants sprayed the crowd with gunfire and killed 24 people.

The MEK, which has a history of attacks inside the Islamic republic, was considered a terrorist group until 2009 by European authorities and until 2012 by the United States, where members of President Donald Trump's administration have had close ties with the movement.

The MEK-linked National Council of Resistance of Iran called the EU sanctions “a positive, necessary but insufficient step” and called for the bloc to expel all of Tehran's “agents” on European soil.

“Three decades of experience show that the mullahs only understand the language of firmness,” it said in a statement.

Last June, the Netherlands expelled two Iranian embassy workers in connection with the murders.

Tehran at the time protested the expulsion as an “unfriendly and destructive move” and threatened to retaliate.

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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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