4th Dec 2023

Verbal tension on Gaza in EU summit communiqué

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell (r) said that support for a 'humanitarian pause' is currently growing in the EU (Photo: European Union)
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EU leaders are set to discuss the situation in the Middle East on Thursday (26 October), with the aim of agreeing on a "humanitarian pause" in the Israel-Hamas war to allow safe deliveries of aid to Gaza.

They'll also express support for Kyiv, keeping Ukraine a priority on the two-day summit agenda.

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  • The US previously blocked a UN resolution calling for a humanitarian pause to allow aid into the Gaza Strip (Photo:

"Developments [in the Middle East] require our immediate attention, without distracting us from our continued support to Ukraine," said EU council president Charles Michel in his invitation letter to the heads of state and government.

Following a week of disputes regarding EU aid to Palestine and a noticeable lack of coordination among EU institutions, which has reinforced narratives of the EU's perceived 'double standards' on the Israel-Palestine issue, there is increasing pressure on EU leaders to demonstrate unity during this summit.

Technical discussions have proven difficult to make all 27 EU countries agree on a call for a "humanitarian ceasefire" given the nature of this conflict. The term 'ceasefire' is regarded as "too drastic" or premature to be employed in this context, according to several sources.

"There is a terrorist organisation in Gaza … So, the question is, how should a ceasefire be established? A ceasefire has to be established on both sides to be valid," said Czech foreign affairs minister Jan Lipavský earlier this week.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said that support for a "humanitarian pause" is currently growing in the EU.

However, some countries such as Austria and Germany have raised concerns over the use of such terminology, as they believe it may conflict with Israel's right to self-defence.

"The wording of humanitarian pause and ceasefire both are quite difficult," said another EU diplomat, pointing out that summit conclusions might avoid any of these words and instead reflect on the need to allow deliveries of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

And ongoing discussions are focused on whether to call for a humanitarian "window", "pause", or "pauses".

"We are not the US, we have a right to an opinion," a diplomat said, referring to the US blocking a UN resolution calling for a humanitarian pause.

'More divisive than Ukraine'

Thursday's debate will be marked by the reports of leaders who have recently been on the ground — mainly the trips of French president Emmanuel Macron, Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer, and Czech prime minister Petr Fiala who travelled to Tel Aviv this week to show their support.

European Parliament president Roberta Metsola and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen first visited Israel two weeks ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack.

EU leaders will also address the war's direct impact on Europeans since the Israel-Hamas war is considered "more divisive" than, for example, Ukraine, an EU diplomat said.

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and France, how to enhance internal security and the direct impact of the conflict on migration flows will also be addressed during the summit.

The Belgian intelligence's failure related to the deaths of two Swedes last week has proven the need to improve cooperation among EU member states when it comes to migration management.

Sweden, in the meantime, has pushed to include the fight against terrorism in the summit conclusions.

Moreover, discussions about how to avoid a regional escalation of conflict and revive the political process of the two-state solution will also be on the table.

And Macron is expected to talk about his proposal to build a coalition against Hamas.

The chapter on foreign affairs will also include an exchange of views on rising tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, the ongoing situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and concerns related to the Sahel.

'Putin also present in the room'

The debate about migration is expected to mostly focus on how to tackle illegal migration through cooperation agreements with third countries, such as the controversial deal with Tunisia, which may serve as an example for other potential agreements.

"Egypt is very much at the forefront because it is not only touched by the migration routes but also by the developments in Gaza," an EU diplomat said.

EU leaders will also talk about the priority actions mentioned in a new letter sent by von der Leyen on Wednesday.

Migration is seen as a topic that can be easily discussed among 25 member states, but not among the entire 27-nation bloc.

Notably, the topic was left out of the Granada declaration after Hungary and Poland refused to sign the text.

And draft conclusions, seen by EUobserver, include a vague statement on migration — probably to avoid Warsaw and Budapest hijacking the debate.

Additionally, some leaders are expected to directly slam the recent handshake between Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is under EU sanctions.

Prior to Orabán's meeting with Putin in China, Michel had strongly cautioned him against it.

But his meeting has also raised wider security concerns, prompting a meeting of Nato diplomats over Hungary's relations with Russia.

"When the heads of state and government meet on 26 October, it's quite clear that as long as Orbán sits on the table, Putin is also present in the room," socialist MEP Andreas Schieder said during a debate last week.

Ukraine support

But as the world's attention pivots to the Middle East, EU leaders are expected to reaffirm their support for Ukraine. Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky will join EU leaders online on Thursday.

"We are backing Ukraine economically, financially, with humanitarian aid and also with weapons," German chancellor Olaf Scholz said earlier this week, speaking at a German-Ukrainian business forum in Berlin.

"This support will in no way be impacted by the fact that we of course since the horrible morning hours of October 7 have focused on Israel and the Middle East."

Discussions will mainly focus on how to ensure macroeconomic assistance to Ukraine, including a debate on the allocation of €50bn in funding for Kyiv as part of talks over the revision of the EU budget.

This will be part of wider discussions on the long-term EU budget, but a decision is only expected later in December.

EU leaders are also expected to continue discussions on how best to use frozen Russian money — a proposal that party depends on the endorsement of the world's major economies, mainly the G7.

The commission has yet to put forward a proposal but not everyone is currently on board, and the proposal requires unanimity.

"We haven't found sufficient outright backing from all around the table," a diplomat said, arguing that "sooner or later" a decision will need to be made. "It is a moral and an ethical question".


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