Brussels backs down and will not suspend aid to Palestine after criticism from several member states | International

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The deep unrest among several Member States over the announcement by the European Neighborhood Commissioner, Oliver Varhelyi, that development aid for Palestine was temporarily suspended has led the Community Executive to rectify. Brussels clarified late this Monday that it will “urgently” review the European funds allocated to cooperation projects for the Palestinian territories. For now, however, it will not freeze payments (which were not planned for this month of October either). Sources in Brussels assure that Commissioner Varhelyi made the announcement “unilaterally” without consulting the Community Executive and that the communication has caused great unease.

Hours after the announcement by Hungarian Varhelyi, framed in a response to the Hamas attacks against Israel, and after the outrage over the commissioner's communication and doubts about the legality of making the decision without counting on the Twenty-Seven, the community management manager of Crisis, Janez Lenarcic, had assured that humanitarian funds would not be affected. Spain and Ireland had strongly demanded that the Commission clarify what happened, what funds were involved - more than two million people, including a million children, depend on humanitarian aid, according to the UN - and an urgent rectification.

Commissioner Varhelyi had announced on his social networks the decision to “suspend all” development aid payments, a package of 691 million euros, and the urgent review of the projects. “The scale of terror and brutality against Israel and its people is a turning point. We cannot act as if nothing had happened,” he stated bluntly on his social network account X (formerly Twitter). An announcement that came after Germany and Austria announced the interruption of bilateral payments to Palestine for a total of about 144 million euros.

The EU has unequivocally condemned the attacks that Hamas, an Islamist movement that does not recognize the Jewish State and that the Union and the United States consider a terrorist organization, launched by surprise on Saturday against Israel. These attacks caused at least 700 fatalities in its territory, most of them civilians. About 100 people were taken hostage on a day that is already considered the deadliest day in the seven decades that the conflict has lasted.

But after the resounding condemnation, Commissioner Varhelyi went one step further and announced on social networks the temporary suspension of cooperation aid for the Palestinians: “All new budget proposals, including that for 2023, are postponed until further notice. , and we will do a thorough evaluation of the entire portfolio.” He added: “Hate speech, violence and the glorification of terror have poisoned the minds of many people. “We need action and we need it now.”

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Brussels avoided giving further explanations about the announcement, whether a short circuit had occurred within the Commission itself and whether it can legally make that decision. However, in a note issued at the last minute after the controversy, it assured that "it will coordinate with the Member States and partners any necessary follow-up action." The EU has no planned payments to Palestinian projects this month. Brussels will review the aid to “ensure that no EU funding indirectly allows any terrorist organization to carry out attacks against Israel,” the note says. “The Commission will also examine whether, in light of the changed circumstances on the ground, it is necessary to adjust its support programs for the Palestinian population and the Palestinian Authority,” he adds.

The high representative for Foreign Policy and Defense, Josep Borrell, has come forward and also assured this Monday night that the next EU payments will not be suspended. “The suspension of payments – punishing the entire Palestinian people – would have damaged European interests in the region and would have only further emboldened the terrorists,” said the head of European diplomacy on the social network X, correcting the commissioner. Hungarian.

The EU has committed some €1.18 billion in financial support to the West Bank (governed by the Palestinian National Authority) and Gaza (governed by Hamas) in the period from 2021 to 2024. This same Monday, a Commission spokesperson publicly assured that the EU projects in the territories are carried out by NGOs and other partners and that, following a policy of not maintaining any contact with Hamas, these European funds have not gone to the organization. “The EU does not directly or indirectly finance Hamas or its terrorist activities,” the spokesperson added. The Union finances cooperation, education, democracy and sustainable economy projects, in addition to sending funds for humanitarian aid.

In Spain, the decision to suspend aid caused great discomfort. The second vice president of the acting Government, Yolanda Díaz, described it as “outrageous” and asked the European Commission to rectify it. “This decision is outrageous, a true betrayal by Europe of its own founding principles,” Díaz said on social media. The acting Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albares, spoke by phone with Commissioner Varhelyi to convey his disagreement with the decision, according to community sources. Brussels did not inform the foreign ministers of the Twenty-seven of the decision and Spain asked that it be included in the agenda of the emergency meeting called on Tuesday by the high representative for Foreign Policy and Defense.

Ireland also criticized the form and substance of Commissioner Varhelyi's announcement. “We understand that there is no legal basis for a unilateral decision of this type by an individual commissioner and we do not support the suspension of aid,” the Irish Government stressed in a note in which it discredited the fact that the announcement had been made on the networks. and requested information from the European Commission. Luxembourg also criticized the haste of the decision. Italy, at the other political extreme, assured this Monday that it plans to maintain aid to the Palestinian territories, and argued that cutting off the supply of funds would punish civilians more than the perpetrators of the attack. Belgium, also upset by Brussels' decision, announced that it would continue with its development and humanitarian aid.

Austria and Germany suspend their bilateral funds

The decision announced by Varhelyi came after the German government said on Monday that it was suspending bilateral aid worth 125 million euros planned for this year, pending a “thorough” examination of how it was being used. Austria has also announced the interruption of payments, worth 19 million euros.

German Development Minister Svenja Schulze, a Social Democrat, declared Sunday night that the attacks represent a “terrible turning point” and that Berlin was going to coordinate with its allies to find the best way to respond. Schulze added that the German government is preparing to review “its entire commitment to the Palestinian territories.” Already this Monday, a spokesperson for her department confirmed that the aid is “temporarily” paralyzed.

Germany's decision has provoked criticism among the members of the coalition of social democrats, greens and liberals led by the chancellor, Olaf Scholz. The spokesman for the SPD parliamentary foreign policy group, Nils Schmid, has spoken out against the measure in an interview with The world: “Germany's financial aid provides people with better access to healthcare, water and sanitation services.” Green MP Jürgen Trittin is of the same opinion: “If humanitarian aid is cut now, terrorism will not be deprived of its breeding ground. It will be reinforced,” he assured.

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