Senior EU diplomat Stefan Sannino has been busy doing damage control after EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borell made an erroneous claim about an alleged agreement on the need for a “pause” in hostilities in Gaza. Borell’s claim led to controversy after he mentioned that there was a “basic consensus” regarding the need for a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting between Israel and Hamas. However, it later became clear that no such agreement existed, as it took another four days to agree on the wording of the resolution, ultimately calling for ‘humanitarian pauses’, plural.
This revelation has led to tensions within the EU, as certain member states fear that a singular term – “pause” – could be interpreted as calling for a longer ceasefire, something they want to avoid to prevent any challenges to Israel’s right to “self-defense”. Sannino, the secretary-general of the European External Action Service, has been on a mission to apologize and explain Borell’s remarks, as well as clarify the true nature of the situation to other diplomats and internal bodies of the EU. His efforts have been seen as a way to shift the blame away from himself and onto Borrell for the misinterpretation and miscommunication surrounding the alleged consensus on the Gaza conflict.
In response to the growing controversy, an EU spokesperson has attempted to clarify Borell’s words, explaining that the diplomat had emphasized that there were various opinions voiced during the discussion among the 27 member states on a humanitarian pause, and an overwhelming majority were in favor of it. Despite this, the EU has been struggling to reach a unified position on the war in Gaza, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s unwavering support for Israel conflicting with Borell’s calls for a ceasefire.
Following the bloc’s agreement on the wording of its resolution, Borell continued to voice his concerns about the hostilities and criticized Israel for causing civilian casualties, including children. He also called for the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas. These statements have further highlighted the division within the EU regarding its stance on the Gaza conflict.
With the EU’s top officials at odds over their support for Israel and the calls for a ceasefire, it has become evident that the issue of foreign policy within the bloc needs to be addressed. While von der Leyen holds a senior position, Borell stressed that it is the responsibility of the Foreign Affairs Ministers Council and the European Council, rather than the European Commission, to set the bloc’s foreign policy. As a result, the disagreement over the Gaza conflict has revealed the need for a more cohesive and unified approach to foreign policy decisions within the EU.