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While the EU leaders are unanimous in condemning the violent actions by Hamas, the challenge that the EU will be facing is to come up with a common position on its long-term policy vis-a-vis the Middle East.
So far, the Europeans have been rather divided on the best course of action on the solving of the Israel-Palestine conflict. We provide a synthesis of the wide diversity of positions among EU leaders, as some have shown more sympathy towards the Israeli side, while others more towards the Palestinian one.
The visual below maps the positions of national governments on the conflict. This analysis is based on the voting behaviour of politicians coming from the parties in government while making decisions in the European Parliament. We factored in (and weighted) both senior governing parties and coalition partners. The period for the data is July 2019 - September 2023.
As you can see from the map, there are significant geographical differences. For instance, Israel is traditionally gaining more support from among CEE countries, such as Poland, Hungary, Czechia, etc.. This was also reflected in the initiative by the Hungarian Commissioner Várhelyi to announce the suspension of development aid for Palestine.
On the other hand, countries such as Ireland, because of their own history, and West-European governments led by left-leaning majorities (such as Luxembourg) tend to be more supportive of the Palestinian movement and promptly rejected the proposals to cut EU funding.
As for the major countries, German governing parties tend to be more moderate in their approach towards the conflict compared to their European counterparts, especially in the case of the Greens.
While the French position is traditionally moderate, the current Polish and Italian governments can be expected to be among the leading supporters of the Israeli cause at the EU level. Conversely, the Spanish executive is likely to be more divided, as the traditional support for Palestine by Podemos and allies clashes with PSOE’s slightly more moderate stance (as seen by Borrell’s reaction to the Palestinian attacks).
We also see a degree of political polarisation within specific countries, especially in the case of Swedish politicians, who tend to have more radical views either way depending on their political affiliation.
The chart below pictures the nuances across the parties from all of the 27 EU member states, based on how they voted on key issues in the current term of the European Parliament.
The list of votes on which this index is based is available here:
The picture above shows a degree of polarisation within EU institutions, with left-wing forces being more supportive of the Palestinian cause, while right-wing ones are more sympathetic towards Israel.
Even in a moderate country such as Germany, there is a significant difference in terms of views between the governing parties and the right-wing opposition, which is much more supportive of the Israeli point of view (including in the case of Ursula von der Leyen’s party, CDU). Political differences might also explain why Ursula von der Leyen seemingly had a more assertive reaction to the attacks than European Council President Charles Michel.
The next few weeks will show whether these differences can be reduced and to what extent the EU will be able to replicate the sort of homogenisation of its foreign policy as we have witnessed in the case of its position on the war in Ukraine.
Another important conflict in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood is the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The latest take-over of the region by Azerbaijan received mixed reactions at the EU level, and a negative response by France especially.
Notably an EP resolution from last week calls for the suspension of the Memorandum of Understanding on a Strategic Partnership in the Field of Energy between the European Union and Azerbaijan. Yet, the EU political families remain divided, as EPP and ECR groups tend to support closer relations with Azerbaijan, also in light of the energy benefits of a closer partnership.
The chart below shows the positions of the national parties across the EU on EU-Azerbaijan relations:
There are significant divisions within the groups, and notably the French from across the political spectrum are very critical of closer ties with Baku, followed by the Swedish - to a lesser extent.
On the opposite side, parties from the Visegrad group and broader CEE are more favorable towards maintaining a good relationship with the Azeri.
The party of German Chancellor Scholz is less critical of Azerbaijan compared to the rest of S&D group, which signals a contrast between Paris and Berlin on the conflict in the Caucasus.
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