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Next European Parliament more pro-Israel?

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For Israel, the most important question is who will succeed Josep Borrell as EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Since the military offensive in Gaza against Hamas following the massacre committed by Hamas in Israel on October 7, Borrell, a former Spanish Socialist Foreign Minister, has become increasingly anti-Israel in his statements.

‘’The results of the European elections seem to indicate that the next 720-member European Parliament has the potential to become more pro-Israel,’’ said  Tomas Sandell, Director and Founder of the European Coalition for Israel (ECI) as he assessed for European Jewish Press the impact on Israel of last week’s votes in the 27 EU member states which showed a clear shift to the right, be the ‘’soft’’ or the ‘’hard’’ right.

The European People’s Party (centre-right) and the S&D (Social-Democrat) will remain the largest political groups in the parliament but with the important gains of the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) and extreme-right Identity and Democracy (ID) groups, together with the losses registered by the Renew group (center, liberal), especially in France, as well as by the Left and the Greens.

Future alliances may change and will have an impact on the nomination of the top EU posts such as President of the EU Commission, President of the EU Council, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (particularly important in terms of EU’s relations with Israel) and President of the European Parliament. An informal dinner of EU leaders on Monday will be a first occasion for them to discuss the future positions which need their agreements as well as a majority within the new European Parliament.

In France, the National Rally party of Marine Le Pen surged to 30% of the vote, while French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party dropped to 15% down from 22% in 2019. The president immediately dissolved the national parliament and called for new elections at the end of June.

In Germany the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) took the second place with an estimated 16.5% of the vote in Sunday’s EU election, while Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats scored their worst result ever.

In Italy, Prime Minister’s Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy recieved more than a quarter of votes.

The Prime Ministers of two of the most anti-Israel member states, Spain and Belgium, suffered a heavy setback in the elections. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who had called for a review of the EU’s trade relations with Israel, resigned following parliament elections in his country that saw the Flemish nationalists and French-speaking liberals become the first parties in Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels.

The election results are a great victory for parties calling for a strong policy on immigration, while the left-leaning parties who ran on climate change and support for Ukraine suffered great losses.

‘’Instead of dismissing these far-right parties that made electoral victories, I think we should at least give them a chance and relate to them party by party, country by country, and not generalize,’’ said Tomas Sandell, whose organization earlier this year published an EU ranking on Israel which clearly showed that the biggest support for Israel can be found among parties on the right of the centre in the European Parliament, the most pro-Israel of all political groups being the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), followed by Identity and Democracy (ID), the European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-liberal Renew group.

‘’There are reasons to be concerned by the electoral gains of AFD in Germany at the difference of other extreme-right parties like Vox in Spain or Brothers of Italy of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni which seems to be much more moving tot he mainstream.’’

‘’Generally speaking, you know the results would indicate that there is a greater potential for a stronger pro-israel caucus in the European Parliament,’’ Sandell adds.

For Israel, however, the most important question is who will succeed Josep Borrell as EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (better known in the media as the EU’s foreign affairs chief). Since the military offensive in Gaza against Hamas following the massacre committed by Hamas in Israel on October 7, Borrell, a former Spanish Socialist Foreign Minister, has become increasingly anti-Israel in his statements.

Among others, he accused Israel of deliberately causing famine in Gaza, he said that Israel created Hamas and more recently he made a controversial statement that Israel rejected a hostage deal while Hamas accepted it. The deal he was referring to was an old proposal and not the latest on the table. He also criticized Israel for continuing its military offensive in Rafah  warning that this might have consequences on EU-Israel relations. He also systematically opposed an EU ban of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) despite the vote by the EU parliament of a resolution calling for such a ban.

Last week he welcomed the release of four Israeli hostages from captivity in Gaza while also condemning “reports from Gaza of another massacre of civilians during the rescue operation’’ by the Israeli army.

Deputies such as David Lega on the right have consistently been asking for a ban of IRGC whereas this has been opposed by the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell and others on the political left.

‘’If Borrell doesn’t understand himself that it’s time to step down has come, this will be clear once the nomination of his successor starts. I think that those in the European Parliament have still a responsibility to keep checks and balances on the High Representative so that he doesn’t use this lame duck period in an unconstructive way and make more mistakes than he has done already ,’’ Sandell stresses.

At Borrell’s initiative, EU Foreign Ministers have agreed earlier this month  to invite Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz to discuss the country’s compliance with its human rights obligations under the EU-Israel Association Agreement. ‘’In order to discuss the situation in Gaza (…) the respect of human rights” as well as how Israel intends to comply with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling calling on it to cease its offensive in Rafah,’’ Borrell said.  But since then, the Israeli minister has not yet replied to the invitation, a sign that Israel is suspicious of Borrelll’s invitation and might be waiting to see who will take over his position.

Borrell’s ‘’repeated anti-Israel’’ bias was condemned in a resolution adopted recently by European Jewish leaders who went so far as to accuse him of contributing to ongoing antisemitism. An accusation strongly rejected by Borrell’s spokesperson.

‘’There is a political call to really restrain Josep Borrell and put him in line during this period of several months before a new High Representative is appointed.Taking into account the elections results as well, I think there is less tolerance for a policy that has failed completely when it comes to Russia and in relation with Iran,’’ says Tomas Sandell.

Who to succeed Borrell ?

‘’I think that the next High Representative would come from Central Eastern Europe. There are several reasons for that and one is related to the war in Ukraine. These are countries that understand what is at stake and are not hiding behind false perceptions appeasement. They have also a much greater clarity when it comes to how Europe should deal with other totalitarian regimes like the one in Tehran. I think that this should be reflected in the apppointment of the next High Representative.’’

Potential candidates include Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski. Both would be acceptable for Israel.  Kallas stated last November: “Hamas is waging a ruthless campaign of terror with zero regard for human life, including the lives of Palestinians. Israel is fully entitled to defend itself. But it must do so in a way that spares innocent lives and adheres to the norms of international law.”

All will depend on the repartition of the top EU posts between the main political groups in the EU parliament. ‘’We could also think of an Italian diplomat to succeed Borrell if Mario Draghi (currently head of the European Central Bank) will not get a top position. Even Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani?,’’ notes Sandell.

For Prof. Uri Rosenthal, a former Dutch Foreign Minister in the Rutte government,  with regard to the Middle East, ‘’the results of the European Parliament elections could have been worse than they are with regard to the Middle East. I think Israel can be positive on the fact that in Europe very anti-Israel sentiments are not being reflected in the EU elections.’’

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas is a potential candidate to succeed Josep Borrell as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Until today, Israel has been rather cautious with the support received from far-right parties in Europe. ‘’Israel will have to consider each of the European far-right parties individually since they are not all made of the same elk. In general, though the results are good news, at a time when Israel’s position in Europe is at an all-time low,’’ writes Ynet news website.

It sees the rise of the European right as the result of the growing opposition to immigration policies and the growing power of immigrants in the continent, especially the Arabs.

‘’It is most important that the left does not have a majority to promote policies against us,” an Israeli official said.

A leading European rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association, warned recently that Europe faces an “exodus” of Jews because of the surge of antisemitism and the lack of action from European leaders. “We are really very much concerned about the future because we do not have certainty that the new leadership are committed for sure to the future of Jews in Europe,’’ he told The Jewish Chronicle following the EU elections and the gains of the far-tight parties in France and Germany.

Alternative for Deutschland, whose founder was convicted of using a Nazi slogan in a campaign speech, came second in Germany, ahead of the ruling Social Democratic Party.

“There are some far-right politicians who support Israel’s right to defend itself because of radical Islam, and I understand why some Jews are really happy to see them getting power because of the Middle East. But being a Jew in Europe is not only about Islamism, we have to remember we do not share the exact same values as the far-right,’’ said Rabbi Margolin.

“We do not have a problem with Muslims, with immigrants, or with strangers. I call on those who jump from happiness to calm down a bit. We have to be cautious. We have to analyse party by party.”

Far-right parties such as the AfD ‘’should be banned over their extremist ties. Anyone who praises Nazis cannot run for politics, they should be investigated and blocked,’’ he said.

By Yossi Lemkowicz

EU Briefs publie des articles provenant de diverses sources extérieures qui expriment un large éventail de points de vue. Les positions prises dans ces articles ne sont pas nécessairement celles d'EU Briefs.

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