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Why the EU needs a common position on the Israel-Hamas war

Why the EU needs a common position on the Israel-Hamas war

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Good morning. Good news from Luxembourg where yesterday long-stalled reform of the EU electricity market was unlocked by a Franco-German deal; bad news from Athens where the country’s central bank governor warned the Israel-Hamas war has thrown monetary policy planning into “the dark.”

Also, get this: Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán met Russian president (and accused war criminal) Vladimir Putin in Beijing yesterday. The US publicly criticised him. The EU did not.

Today, I take you through the PR exercise of last night’s emergency meeting of EU leaders, and Laura explains how Belgium thinks Europe should respond to Monday’s terror attack in Brussels.

Message discipline

Does the EU have a joint position on the conflict between Israel and Hamas? It certainly needs the rest of the world to think so.

Context: Hamas’s October 7 terror attack against Israel and Israel’s response to attack Gaza exposed acute divisions in the EU. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s trip to Tel Aviv last week, without approval from the 27 leaders, brought those divisions to the fore, and prompted an emergency video conference last night to present a joint position.

Some EU leaders directly praised von der Leyen’s trip during the summit, according to people briefed on the conversation; others chose to pointedly avoid reference. Some are irritated about substance (she didn’t publicly demand Israel adhere to international law in its reprisals); others are irritated about form (she went without their blessing).

Council president Charles Michel, who chaired the meeting, praised the endorsement of a “very united, very firm statement” published in advance of the summit, which includes a demand for international law to be upheld. Von der Leyen told reporters afterwards that she agreed with it.

“There is no contradiction in standing with Israel in solidarity, and acting for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians,” she said.

Michel went further, saying that the alleged bombing of a Gaza hospital yesterday and Israel’s imposition of a “total siege” on Gaza breached international law.

Atop the moral power of calling out such violations, Michel is also acutely aware of how developing countries are scathing of what they see as western hypocrisy, after condemnations of Russia for identical actions against Ukraine.

“There is one country that benefits from this conflict, and that is Russia,” Michel said. “Let’s not fall into that trap.”

Chart du jour: Arm wrestle

The US arms industry is gearing up to accelerate weapons supplies to Israel while already arming Ukraine — despite depleted Pentagon stocks.

Paperless trail

Authorities in Belgium are calling for stricter enforcement of deportations after a man living in the country illegally shot three people on Monday evening.

The shooting is being treated as a terrorist incident and triggered an alert level not seen in Belgium since the Islamist attacks in 2016. But the situation in Europe is different today, writes Laura Dubois.

Context: Two people of Swedish nationality were killed and one injured in the shooting. The perpetrator, Tunisian Abdesalem Lassoued, claimed he was acting on behalf of the terrorist group Isis. He lived in the country although his asylum was denied in 2020.

“An order to leave the country has to become more binding,” Belgium’s prime minister Alexander De Croo said in a press conference yesterday. “This also means collaborating with the countries of origin, which is not always easy, and we need to sort this out with our European counterparts.”

According to the European Commission, some 300,000 people are ordered to leave the EU each year, but only about 21 per cent actually do so, with many remaining in legal limbo. Returns are generally voluntary and based on agreements with third countries.

Nicole De Moor, Belgium state secretary for asylum and migration, said difficulties hinged upon contacts with the countries of origin. “That’s where things go wrong, especially in a number of countries like Tunisia,” De Moor said.

She said measures including investments, development aid and visa policies should be deployed to get those countries to collaborate. A recent EU deal with Tunisia has run into difficulties over implementation.

Tensions are especially high as European countries fear the Israel-Hamas conflict could lead to repercussions on their territories. Two people were arrested in Italy yesterday over alleged involvement with Isis, and last week in France a teacher was killed.

Belgian officials have cautioned that the situation differs from the threats by organised Islamist terrorists seen at the height of the war in Syria in 2015-16. Rudi Vervoort, premier of the Brussels region, spoke of a “different form of terrorism” with perpetrators acting alone.

“It does not appear at this stage of the investigation that the terrorist attack was organised by a large terrorist structure,” said Belgium’s federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw. “The lone wolf thesis seems closer to reality.”

What to watch today

  1. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen addresses the European parliament on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

  2. Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson in Brussels to commemorate victims of Monday’s shooting.

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