Friday

27th Nov 2020

Ashton's secret diplomacy upsets EU states

  • Senningen Castle. The meeting was attended by "key" foreign ministers and Arab personalities (Photo: eu2005.lu)

EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton has annoyed some member states by taking part in a secretive meeting about the Middle East peace process.

Luxembourg's openly pro-Palestinian foreign minister Jean Asselborn hosted the informal dinner about the Arab-Israeli conflict at the Senningen castle in the grand duchy on Sunday (19 June), on the eve of an EU foreign ministers' meeting.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The event was attended by British foreign minister William Hague, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt and the high representative. The French and Italian foreign ministers were invited but could not make it.

A number of Arab diplomats also came. The list reportedly includes the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Elaraby, a delegate from Jordan, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and a delegate from Saudi Arabia.

None of the 'new' EU countries were asked along, including the Hungarian EU presidency and the incoming Polish presidency. There was no Israeli participation and no guests from staunchly pro-Israeli EU countries such as the Czech Republic and the Netherlands.

Spokespeople for Asselborn and Ashton declined to comment on the meeting, with Luxembourg saying only that it was "confidential."

The one guest who made a public remark was Bildt, who wrote in his blog that the event was "devoted [to] possibilities of a peace process in the Middle East".

An EU diplomat with knowledge of the matter told EUobserver the talks were aimed at finding a way to stop Palestinians from seeking UN recognition of statehood in September.

Ashton is concerned the move would expose a split in the union and damage relations between pro-Palestinian EU countries and the US. It could also ignite tensions in the region if the US uses its UN Security Council veto to block the initiative.

The high representative came to Luxembourg straight from an equally secretive meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the international envoy to the Middle East, former UK leader Tony Blair.

But it is doubtful she brought Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat a strong incentive to abandon the UN plan.

"There is no indication that the Israelis are really interested in restarting the peace process at this stage," the EU diplomat said. "Bildt said the meeting was inconclusive, that it was premature to expect any solution at this stage," a Swedish diplomat noted.

Whatever was said at the dinner, Ashton's participation upset some EU countries.

"Member states meet in many formats, some of which are regional ones. But it raised eyebrows. If it's an ad hoc thing, it's OK. But if this kind of event becomes normal behaviour, then it could be a problem," a diplomat from one of the excluded EU countries said.

A diplomat from another excluded member state said it fortified Ashton's image of being pro-Palestinian rather than a neutral broker.

"She's already considered to be pro-Palestinian. She gives away gifts of toys made by children in Gaza. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that as such. But this kind of thing [the Senningen meeting] is not going to avoid a Kosovo moment in the EU. It won't help to smooth over divisions," the contact said, referring to the EU split over recognition of Kosovo sovereignty.

EU red-flags Israel's Givat Hamatos settlement

New Israeli settlements around Jerusalem could do more harm to Middle East peace than Israel's recent deals with Arab states did good, EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell has indicated.

Analysis

There is 'no Russia-Turkey alliance'

Talk of a grand Turkey-Russia realignment is premature, Nato and Russia experts say - despite Putin and Erdoğan's friendly ties.

Exclusive

New EU sanctions to hit Belarusian oligarchs

Regime-linked Belarusian tycoons are to face new sanctions, while EU-Belarus relations are being cut to a minimum, according to an internal EU paper, seen by EUobserver.

News in Brief

  1. Brexit talks pick up pace once more
  2. MEPs back US trade detente
  3. Iran diplomat to stand trial in Belgium over 'France bomb plot'
  4. Trump says he'll leave if Biden wins Electoral College vote
  5. EU Parliament: Polish abortion ban risks womens' lives
  6. UN experts warn against racial profiling
  7. EU auditors raise red flag over maritime protection
  8. Four students charged in France's beheading case

Opinion

The under-reported power struggle at the top of the OSCE

An internal power struggle has undermined the world's leading international security body since the summer. The OSCE is due to finally get new leaders in December but the unprecedented power vacuum has hit at a crunch time for hotspots worldwide.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  2. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  4. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector

Latest News

  1. Erdoğan jails hundreds for life, as EU weighs relations
  2. Italian energy giant director advising EU foreign policy chief
  3. Poland and Hungary say rule-of-law link needs treaty change
  4. Portuguese presidency to focus on social rights and India
  5. The under-reported power struggle at the top of the OSCE
  6. Poland hammered on women's rights in EU debate
  7. EU 'front-line' states want clearer migration rules
  8. Von der Leyen tells Poland and Hungary to go to court

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us