EUOBSERVER / COMMENT - For more than five years the European Union has been unwittingly strengthening Iran's hand as it defies repeated demands by the UN nuclear watchdog and security council to halt its nuclear weapons developments.
The EU banned the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), the main democratic opposition movement to the regime, as a goodwill gesture to the mullahs in 2002.
Since then, five European courts have ordered the "perverse" and "unlawful" terrorist label on the group to be lifted in the EU and the United Kingdom, whose proscription order was the basis for the EU-wide ban.
Yet, the EU has chosen to defy the rule of law.
When it banned the PMOI in 2002, its argument was that the British government had proscribed the group a year earlier (EU law dictates that groups must first be banned by a competent national authority before it can do the same). But in 2007, Britain's High Court ruled that the proscription was "perverse," not least because the government had been unable to produce a shred of evidence of terrorist activities by the group in the court's open and closed hearings.
When the government took the case to the Court of Appeal, the Lord Chief Justice ruled in May 2008 that the government's decision-making process in the case had "significantly fallen short of the standards which our public law sets and which those affected by public decisions have come to expect." Both Houses of Parliament unanimously lifted the ban on the group in June.
Thus, the EU's case for maintaining its ban vanished. But in a cowardly act of appeasement, France stepped in and requested that the 27-nation bloc keep the ban in force on the basis that it was investigating the PMOI for terrorist operations. It pointed to the fact that in 2003, France raided the Iranian resistance's headquarters north of Paris. Since the investigation is ongoing, it argued, the EU had a reason for maintaining the ban. The EU Council of Ministers accepted the shabby set of arguments and its July 2008 register of terrorist groups with the PMOI's name included was rubber-stamped by its agriculture ministers!
The French raid against the resistance - coordinated with Iranian officials weeks prior - was carried out on the grounds that the PMOI was on the EU terrorist list. But now with no evidence to present, the EU Council of Ministers claims that the PMOI should be kept in the list on the basis of the French raid. Ironically, the French - knowing full well that they are pursuing an empty case - have not summoned a single PMOI member for questioning over the past five years.
The European Court of Instance on 23 October annulled for a second time the EU ban on the PMOI, saying the evidence presented was "manifestly insufficient to provide legal justification for continuing to freeze" the group's funds.
Since the outset, the EU Council of Ministers has spent millions of euros to defend its unlawful actions before legal institutions. It has lost in all cases. The most shameful aspect of this behaviour is that the EU has broken the law only to appease a regime which continuously violates the rights of its citizens and is moving full-throttle towards building a nuclear weapon with which to hold the West ransom to its fundamentalist ideology.
The EU's actions have emboldened the mullahs to step up their meddling in the affairs of Iraq and the Middle East and defy repeated UN security council resolutions ordering a halt to uranium enrichment activities. If Europe is serious about stopping the world's greatest state sponsor of terrorism from developing into a regional bully with its finger on the red button, it should first of all lift the chains imposed on its main democratic alternative.
Robin Corbett is a former Labour whip in the House of Commons (1984-87), and chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee (1999-2001). He is currently chair of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom