Israel-EU Conference Promotes Trade, Rejects Hezbollah Terror Label
by Ezriel Gelbfish
After today’s EU-Israel Association Council meeting, where political considerations were discussed and increased collaborations in diverse fields were negotiated, relations have been successfully advanced between Israel and the European Union.
“We have drawn up a list of activities, which will give us a lot of work in the immediate future” said Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, in a press conference after the Council’s meeting in Brussels today. Spanning broad areas like trade, migration, and energy, the Council meeting yielded “about 60 concrete actions in 15 fields,” said Commisioner Fule in his press statement.
Some notable items include enhanced co-operation between Israel and nine EU agencies, including Europol and the European Space Agency, and a promised removal of obstacles hindering trade between Israel and government-controlled European markets. The economic developments are especially important for Israel, whose trade market in Europe amounts to 60% of its total trade, according to an anonymous Brussels-based diplomat speaking to The Guardian.
An additional agenda pursued by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman pushed for the European Union to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. “It is time to place Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organizations of Europe…[to] give the right signal to the international community and the Israeli people” said Liberman at the EU conference.
Lieberman’s motion was rejected by the EU, however, despite last week’s deadly bombings in Bulgaria that Israel attributed to the terror group. “The decision to put Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations requires unanimity in the Council,” said Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, chair of the EU Council in Brussels. In contrast with the United States, which officially classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the EU has rejected the classification, as one or more EU members have routinely obstructed a unanimous decision.
The EU’s political deliberations were followed by additional statements expressing criticism and reserved concern over certain Israeli policies. “Our renewed neighborhood policy focuses not only on mutual interests but also very much on values” explained Commissioner Fule, before citing concerns related to Israel’s Arab minority and Bedouin communities. Tension over Israeli development in the West Bank and other issues have been blamed for stagnation in Israeli-EU relations in recent years, with a notable freeze on an upgrade plan occurring in January 2009, a result of the EU’s displeasure over Israeli’s war against Hamas in Gaza.
Nevertheless, Commisioner Fule characterized Israeli-EU relations as “strong” and “vibrant” and called Israel “a prime example of democracy in the region,” highlighting the success of the current conference when compared to the embittered climate of past years.
“We will continue technical discussions, whenever necessary, in order to identify areas for future potential co-operation” said Fule in his statement.