Saturday

6th Mar 2021

EU brushes off Belgian Islam hand-shake spat

Female European diplomats did not shake hands with Iranian parliamentary delegates at a meeting in Brussels on Friday (1 July) while EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana served coffee, fruit juice and water, following a row over women's rights and alcohol between Belgium and Iran.

European Council and European Commission sources stressed that it is normal protocol for female EU employees, including commissioners, to avoid shaking hands with Islamic guests or hosts in order to respect religious custom.

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 Iranians do not shake hands with women. It's their personal decision and they are our guests", a spokeswoman for Mr Solana said, adding that she is not offended by the practice and warmly embraces female Iranian delegates whom she knows well.

The meeting reaffirmed Brussels and Tehran's commitment to continue dialogue on nuclear non-proliferation, counter-terrorism and human rights in the wake of Iran's election of the conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week.

European Parliament sources also confirmed that while there are no official EU rules on hand-shaking and alcohol, such differences are usually worked out before meetings in order to smooth diplomatic relations.

The EU's attitude toward Islamic customs stand in contrast to Belgium's views on the subject however, with Belgian upper house president Anne-Marie Lizin canceling her meeting with the Iranian party on Thursday (30 June) because of the hand-shaking problem.

Belgian lower house speaker Herman de Croo also cancelled his lunch with the Tehran group after the Iranians insisted that there should be no alcohol at all present at the event, opting to meet in the parliament's offices briefly instead.

"According to our habits, we would do this [shake hands]. There is no difference between men and women in Belgium", a spokesman for the Belgian senate told EUobserver, adding that Afghan president Hamid Karzai shook Ms Lizin's hand on a visit in May.

"You can't force the authorities of Belgium to drink water", he added.

Experts on Islamic law told EUobserver that it is not against Islamic law to shake hands with women, in so much as there is no single Islamic legal canon on the subject.

Analysis

Relief in EPP group, as Orbán's party finally leaves

The debate over Fidesz had become an unbearable political burden on EPP - but it also represented a core dilemma for many centre-right, mainstream parties struggling to deal with their populist challengers.

EPP group moves forward to suspend Orban's Fidesz

MEPs are scheduled to vote on Wednesday to change the rules of procedure of the centre-right European People's Party parliamentary group to allow the suspension of a member party.

EUobserved

The trap of spreading ideas while attacking them

Ideas that are attacked are actually being promulgated. That has been the case for centuries, at least as far back as Thomas Aquinas. And that is certainly the case today with Facebook and Twitter.

Coronavirus

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the European Union - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. China and Russia abusing corona for geopolitics, Lithuania says
  2. Worries on Europe's infection surge, after six-week drop
  3. EU wants large firms to report on gender pay-gap or face fines
  4. EU Commission cannot hold Frontex to account
  5. Orbán leaves EPP group - the beginning of a long endgame
  6. 'Corporate due diligence'? - a reality check before EP votes
  7. Austrian ex-minister joins list of EU's pro-Kremlin lobbyists
  8. Internal Frontex probe to deliver final report this week

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us