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In this week’s edition: EU summit aftermath, Ukraine peace talks and no breakthrough on Kosovo-Serbia.
EU leaders’ call for “humanitarian pauses” in the Israel-Hamas war to let in urgently needed humanitarian aid has revealed deep divisions, which are being carefully watched beyond Europe’s borders.
Three weeks after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a massive terrorist attack on southern Israel, killing some 1,400 people, Israel’s retaliation has brought about a humanitarian crisis and killed more than 7,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
After days of discussions on how to call for a pause in the conflict, EU leaders agreed at a summit last week on a call for “humanitarian corridors and pauses for humanitarian needs” and for hostages seized from Israel to be set free unconditionally.
In their joint statement, EU leaders also avoided any mention of a ceasefire despite some member states’ push for tougher wording.
But the EU’s unity on the language did not last long.
Hours after proclaiming they had a united message on Israel-Gaza, EU countries voted at the UN General Assembly on Friday (27 October) on a call for an immediate ‘humanitarian truce’, with divisions apparent for the whole world to see.
Eight EU countries including Belgium, France, and Spain voted in favour of a non-binding resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian truce”.
Austria and Hungary were among four EU member states to vote against the resolution, while 15 nations including Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands abstained.
Israel, the United States, and several European countries such as the Czech Republic criticised the resolution for failing to mention Hamas.
An exchange between the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell and Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg on Saturday, where the latter openly criticised Borrell for going beyond the agreed line on the Middle East, was a further indication of the enduring divisions inside the bloc over the war.
By now there is no doubt that the response to the Israel-Hamas war stands in stark contrast to how quickly the EU projected a unified message when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
With Europe internally divided over the Middle East conflict, expectations from outside are shrinking and could erode the bloc’s power in shoring up support for Ukraine, some EU diplomats and officials fear.
“Some in the world” were trying to exploit the situation to “attack” the EU and “instil doubts” about its credibility, European Council President Charles Michel said after this week’s summit, without elaborating.
Western officials, as well as Borrell, have said in recent weeks were worried that accusations of double standards in how the West views the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East could result in fewer votes of support for Ukraine at the United Nations.
“Our unity will be our best argument when engaging with the Global South,” Michel added.
In the meantime, the Global South is watching closely.
A divide between Europeans and the Arab world was on display at an Israel-Gaza peace summit in Cairo, which accused the Europeans of double standards: condemning Russia’s breaches of international and humanitarian law while not doing the same with Israel’s response after the Hamas attack.
This comes as a series of high-level Western-backed international official meetings currently are seen as a platform for Ukraine to make its case directly to countries that have remained largely neutral on Russia’s war, especially those in the Global South.
This weekend’s third round of Ukraine peace talks was especially expected to help gauge Kyiv and the West’s ability to drum up steady and broad support amid fears that the Israel-Hamas war, which continues to dominate headlines, might move the focus away from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian side has said it saw no evidence of diplomatic setbacks in the Global South so far.
And it’s true, the number of attending countries grew from 15 in Copenhagen to around 43 in Jeddah and now more than 64 in Malta. But in contrast to the last meeting in Jeddah, China, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates were not represented this time.
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