The strange detention of EU diplomats returning from Tehran
On the morning of May 13, Enrique Mora, the political director of the European External Action Service (EEAS), was briefly detained in the Frankfurt airport by the German police upon his return from Tehran, where he traveled in an effort to salvage the faltering nuclear agreement with Iran, known as JCPOA.
The head of the EEAS Iran Task Force Bruno Scholl, who accompanied Mora, was similarly retained, as was EU Ambassador to the UN in Vienna Stephan Klement. Noting that he was carrying a Spanish diplomatic passport, Mora pointed to a possible violation by the German authorities of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations. According to the diplomat, no explanation was given for their detentions, and his phones and passport were taken for examination by the police.
Reports say the three men were held separately for 40 minutes before they were sent on their way back to Brussels.
For their part, the police said the detention was due to “IT-based indications, not related to the individuals.” According to this Politico account, “one explanation circulating among EU officials was that the travel patterns of the diplomats, who had to rebook their flights back to Europe several times due to a fluid schedule in Tehran, triggered an automatic alert with the border police, who failed to take into account the identity of the travelers.”
While Mora’s boss, the EU high representative for foreign policy Josep Borrell, sought to downplay the incident and emphasize that he is “in contact” with the German authorities, Mora decided to take it public.
“Retained by the German police at the Francfort (sic) airport on my way to Brussels, back from Teheran. Not a single explanation,” Mora tweeted on Friday morning. “An EU official on an official mission holding a Spanish diplomatic passport. Took out my passport and my phones.”
Indeed, what happened in Frankfurt is highly unusual and embarrassing for the EU and its efforts to play a serious role in international affairs.
It is possible, although improbable, that Mora’s retention was simply due to a mistake by the border police in the airport. But he is a well-known individual, a top EU diplomat traveling with a diplomatic passport of a EU member state. It is inconceivable that the police in Frankfurt — a major international transport hub — might be unaware of the conventions guiding diplomatic immunity.
That raises a number of troubling questions. Why would German authorities act in this way, given that Germany is a member of the European trio (along with Britain and France) of parties to the JCPOA that pledged their commitment to save the agreement, precisely the mission with which Mora is tasked?
When a member state treats a top EU official in such a derogatory way, it inevitably raises questions about the unity within the EU — an asset that the EU officials are willing to emphasize as they deal with external threats, such as the Russian aggression in Ukraine, for example.
Such incidents also greatly undermine the EU’s relations with third party countries. Events in Frankfurt obviously did not go unnoticed in Tehran. The fact that Mora’s phone was temporarily confiscated no doubt raised concerns that it might have been compromised. This further damages the bloc’s credibility — particularly given the sensitivity of Mora’s mission in Tehran.
What happened in Frankfurt early on May 13, on the face of it, bears the hallmarks of potential diplomatic sabotage at a particularly sensitive time of negotiations with Iran. German government owes a thorough explanation to its own citizens and its partners in the EU.
This article reflects the personal views of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the S&D Group or the European Parliament.