EU countries could use recognition of Palestine as ‘leverage’, says European Council president

Charles Michel says ‘significant’ number of EU countries could recognise Palestine together

EU countries should hold on to the “leverage” of recognising the state of Palestine and band together to take the decision, the president of the European Council has said.

Speaking in Brussels, Charles Michel said a coalition could potentially be built up of a “significant” number of EU countries to recognise Palestine, in exchange for reforms from the Palestinian Authority.

Ireland and Spain have recently indicated they intend to press ahead and formally recognise the state of Palestine, in a move that has infuriated Israel, which has been waging a war in Gaza since October.

Mr Michel said he did not think the European Union would ever agree as a bloc to recognise Palestine as a state. The Belgian politician, who chairs EU summits of the 27 leaders, said while it was a decision for each country, they could “co-ordinate” on the question of recognition.

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While some countries had already come out in favour of the move, and others such as Germany are likely to be staunchly opposed to it, there was a third group of EU members who might be convinced to recognise Palestine “as part of a process,” Mr Michel said.

Recognition can be leverage, a tool, instrument, to trigger some significant progress in parallel with the peace process, the two state solution

—  Charles Michel

He compared the idea to the EU enlargement process, where countries looking to join the union go through a series of phases of reforms before joining the bloc.

If the Palestinian Authority met certain conditions then maybe “a step” could be made by a “significant” group of EU countries, as well as others outside the EU, to recognise the state of Palestine, he said.

“That a certain moment, maybe it’s a bit too early, there could be some co-ordination at the EU level, at least by the member states who are ready to move,” he said.

The council president suggested countries outside of the EU could also be included in the process to jointly recognise Palestine. “Recognition can be leverage, a tool, instrument, to trigger some significant progress in parallel with the peace process, the two state solution,” he said. “I have discussed this idea with the emir of Qatar and some other leaders a few weeks ago,” he said.

The change would be a card that could only be played once, he said. “If one member state recognises Palestine it is not possible to do it again,” he said.

Mr Michel made the comments during a round-table interview with journalists from two dozen publications, including The Irish Times.

There needed to be a greater focus within the EU on how the bloc could better compete economically with the United States and China, he said.

This should include cutting “red tape” that the European Commission had introduced in recent years, which Mr Michel said had angered farmers and businesses. “I think we need more freedom, we need to let the businesses do what they do best, making business,” he said.

Long-debated plans to reform the EU market to make it easier for companies to borrow funding had been let drift without real progress, he said.

As a result, start up companies were “blocked” from accessing enough investment funding in Europe and instead often went to China or the United States to scale upwards, he said.

The reforms to create one single market for capital across the EU have never seriously got off the ground, over fears there would be winners and losers in the overhaul of national financial markets.

Mr Michel said breaking that deadlock was “fundamental” to freeing up vast amounts of private savings that could be “partially channelled” to invest in European businesses. “Today there are 27 different capital markets across the EU, it means the savings in one country cannot easily be mobilised for projects in another country,” he said.

Reforms to introduce a capital markets union would be a “financial bazooka” in the arsenal of the EU, he said. Countries also needed to start talking about pumping more money into the European Investment Bank, he said.

Mr Michel said he hoped the United States would follow the EU’s “example” on Ukraine and approve the €55 billion aid package for the country, which has been held up in Congress. Russian leader Vladimir Putin was calculating that sooner or later he would be able to exhaust the EU in its support for Ukraine during the war, he said. “He is mistaken,” he said.

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