Borrell: “EU has a special duty of care”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell responds to questions from EU Watch and Hostage Aid Worldwide on European hostages jailed in Iran.
Participation of the Members of the College in the plenary session of the European Parliament

Following is the full reply sent to us by Josep Borrell. To read our initial letter to Josep Borrell and the questions we have asked, scroll down.

Brussels, 21 September 2023

Dear Mr Thaidigsmann, dear Mr Zakka,

Johan Floderus, a Swedish citizen who works for the European Union, has been detained illegally in Iran for more than 500 days.

On 4 September, his family decided to publicly confirm his illegal and arbitrary detention. I fully respect their decision and have subsequently also confirmed his identity on behalf of the EU institutions, as did the Swedish authorities.

I want to stress that I have personally, together with a team of colleagues in the European Institutions, worked on the case of Mr Floderus from the very beginning in close coordination with the Swedish authorities, who have primary responsibility when it comes to the consular protection. We have also been in close contact with the family.

In every diplomatic meeting, mission and phone call and at the highest level the EU message was clear: release Johan Floderus and all illegally detained EU citizens, including dual nationals. This terrible practice needs to stop. We all want to see Johan and other EU citizens unjustly detained in Iran reunited with their families.

Regarding the wider issue of arbitrary detention of EU citizens, including dual nationals, the EU and Member States discuss these cases discretely and closely coordinate their public statements on them. However, each consular case is different. Consular affairs are primarily a prerogative of Member States, and it is, first and foremost, their to decision how to best approach each case, including whether and to request the EU’s and other Member States’ involvement. In the case of Johan Floderus, the EU has a special duty of care, which we take very seriously. Nonetheless, given the sensitive nature of these cases, I will continue to respect Member States’ assessment and provide all the support needed.

Regarding the use of sanctions, the EU has not shied away from using this tool in response to Iran’s
behaviour. We will continue to consider all option at our disposal.

We remain actively engaged until Mr Floderus and all EU citizens are free.

Yours faithfully,
Josep Borrell Fontelles

Letter by EU Watch and Hostage Aid Worlwide sent to HRVP Josep Borrell


Brussels, 5 September 2023

Dear Mr. Borrell,

According to a report by the New York Times this week, a Swedish national who is employed by the European External Action Service was apprehended in Iran in April 2022 while on a tourist trip and has since been imprisoned there on “espionage charges.”

As far as we understand, neither the Foreign Affairs Council nor members of the European Parliament, let alone the wider European public, were informed by you or your services of this case. They learned from it from the newspaper.

While we understand the sensitive nature of the issue of EU citizens being held hostage, we do not comprehend why the European Union and you as the HRVP have not made stronger efforts to secure their release, for example by attempting to pool the resources of the 27 EU member states, by creating a dedicated hostage taskforce to coordinate any negotiations with third countries, or at the very least by defining a joint EU strategy for any such negotiations.

In light of the EU Treaty, in particular Article 24 which stipulates that in the area of the common foreign and security policy “the Member States shall work together to enhance and develop their mutual political solidarity” and “refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations”, we would like to put the following six questions to you, which we believe are of the utmost interest to the European public and in particular the family members of hostages:

1. What have you been doing to secure the release of European hostages held in and by the Islamic Republic of Iran?

2. Why has the EU so far not instituted a common approach to information-sharing or defined a common strategy to secure the release of EU citizens held hostage in and by third countries?

3. Why is information regarding European hostages held in third countries not shared between EU member states?

4. If the reports are true that an EU official who works for the EEAS is being held by Iran, why did you and the EEAS not immediately change your stance vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and demand his immediate and unconditional release and that of other EU hostages before continuing any negotiations on the nuclear programme or any other important files?

5. Considering that the total trade in goods between the EU and Iran amounted to €5.2 billion in 2022, do you consider that economic sanctions should be imposed on Iran in light of the regime’s recent actions, and that the EU should pursue a policy of curbing EU-Iran trade until such time as the regime in Tehran ceases its hostile acts?

6. Iran’s foreign minister has said that a so-called ‘September Document’ has been agreed between the signatories to the JCPOA. Will the release of all EU citizens unlawfully detained in Iran, including so-called dual nationals, be part of that document?

We thank you for the attention you give to this letter and would be most grateful if you could share your answers with us at your earliest convenience.

The letter was co-signed by five members of the European Parliament: Dietmar Köster, Frédérique Ries, Andreas Schieder, Hilde Vautmans and Witold Jan Waszczykowski.

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