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Conflict: EU: More pressure on Israel and more help for Ukraine

Conflict: EU: More pressure on Israel and more help for Ukraine

The EU is calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and supporting Ukraine in its defensive battle against Russia. In addition to the two wars, there are also other important topics at the summit in Brussels.

The EU states are toughening their tone towards Israel and calling for an immediate ceasefire in view of the dramatic plight of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. This should lead to a sustainable ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages held in the Gaza Strip and the provision of humanitarian aid, according to a statement adopted by Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the other EU heads of state and government.

It is the first joint positioning of the 27 EU member states on the Gaza war in five months. This was preceded by weeks of discussions. Countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary in particular consider it inappropriate to call on Israel to show great restraint after the terrorist attack by the Islamist Hamas in Israel on October 7th. On the other side, there are countries like Spain that consider Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip to be contrary to international law and would like a stronger reaction from the EU. Germany, which was initially in the camp of the biggest supporters of Israel, has now moved towards the center.

Around 1.5 million people are seeking protection in Rafah

The statement calls on Israel not to launch a ground offensive in Rafah, in the far south of the Gaza Strip, which would worsen the already catastrophic humanitarian situation and prevent urgently needed basic humanitarian assistance. The project is internationally controversial because around 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge there due to the fierce fighting in the Gaza Strip. The US government had also previously warned about this.

The UN Security Council could soon vote on a resolution calling for an immediate and sustained ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Diplomats in the most important UN body told the German Press Agency that a vote is already possible today. The draft resolution comes from the USA and emphasizes the “need for an immediate and lasting ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides and to enable the provision of essential humanitarian assistance,” says the paper.

Interest income from Russian assets for the supply of weapons to Ukraine

In addition to the Middle East conflict, Ukraine’s defensive battle against Russia determined the first day of the summit in Brussels: The EU announced that it would prepare billions in new military aid for the country. The aim is to promote the use of interest income from the frozen Russian central bank assets. This year alone, up to three billion euros could be raised. Scholz said the money should be used primarily to buy weapons and ammunition that Ukraine needs for its defense campaign.

According to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, if a final agreement is reached, the first billion could be paid out as early as July 1st. “So it depends on us. It’s in our hands. If we are quick, there will be a concrete step in the summer,” said von der Leyen.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj called for quick decisions in a speech broadcast via video conference. He criticized the fact that Europe is falling short of its potential when it comes to supplying artillery ammunition. He also asked, among other things, for more air defense systems. It’s not about hundreds, but about an achievable number.

World’s largest development bank is to invest in pure defense projects

In order to increase the defense preparedness of the international community in the face of geopolitical tensions, the heads of state and government want the European Investment Bank (EIB) to play a larger role in arms projects. The EU development bank should, for example, adapt its lending policy and also adapt the current definition of so-called dual-use goods, according to the statement. The latter are products that can be used for civil and military purposes, such as helicopters or drones.

To date, the EIB has only been active in the defense sector with these goods – including financing for research and development. If the development bank is also to invest in pure armaments projects, the 27 EU member states would have to agree on a change in the mandate.

Accession talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina

The EU had already promised Bosnia-Herzegovina accession in 2003 – now the EU heads of state and government at the summit cleared the way for accession talks. However, the first so-called accession conference will only be organized once Bosnia-Herzegovina has implemented reform requirements that have not yet been met. This includes, among other things, the rule of law in the country and the fight against corruption and organized crime.

Chancellor Scholz wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “The European peace project is growing – a clear sign of a strong Europe.” States such as Austria in particular had recently pushed for Bosnia-Herzegovina to be given the prospect of progress in the accession process. The reason for this was also the concern that the Balkan country with around 3.2 million inhabitants could otherwise orientate itself towards Russia or China.

Grain exports are set to become more expensive for Russia

At the end of the first day of the summit, Commission President von der Leyen announced that her authority had prepared a proposal that would impose higher tariffs on Russian grain. In addition to grain, the measure will also affect other agricultural products from Russia and Belarus. According to von der Leyen, grain stolen from Ukraine should also be prevented from being sold to the EU. Russian grain will not destabilize the EU market and Russia will not benefit from exporting these goods, said von der Leyen.

As figures from the Eurostat statistics office show, the EU states have significantly increased their grain imports from Russia in recent years. While in the pre-war years 2020 and 2021 grain was imported from Russia to the EU for almost 120 million euros (2020) and a good 290 million euros (2021), in 2022 it was around 325 million euros and a year later almost 440 million euros. Before the summit, several EU states urged in a letter that the Commission should propose measures to restrict grain exports from Russia to the EU.

Source: Stern

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