EU row erupts after bloc chiefs disgusting move to blindside VDL
A blistering row has erupted in Brussels after European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi moved to cut off funding to Palestine after Saturday’s terror attack on Israel – with one furious insider describing it as a “disgusting move”.
Confusion reigns in the bloc after the Commission responded to Mr Varhelyi’s announcement by bluntly denying any decision had been taken to cut payments, with MEP and former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt describing the situation as “chaos”.
Saturday’s attacks by Hamas militants resulted in the deaths of an estimated 700 Israelis – with Israel responding with airstrikes on Gaza which have so far claimed the lives of an estimated 400 Palestinians.
In response, Mr Varhelyi, from Hungary, the commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, raised eyebrows with a post on X, formerly Twitter: “The scale of terror and brutality against #Israel and its people is a turning point.
“There can be no business as usual.”
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As the biggest donor of the Palestinians, the European Commission, led by President Ursula von der Leyen was therefore putting its “full development portfolio”, worth £597million (€691million), under review, Mr Varhelyi claimed.
However, his decision was apparently not representative of the Commission as a whole, with a brief statement issued five hours later saying: “There will be no suspension of payments.”
The EU had pledged £1billion (€1.18billion) in financial support between 2021 to 2024 in a joint programme for the West Bank and Gaza, controlled by Hamas – but the commission insisted: “The EU is not funding Hamas or their terrorist activities directly or indirectly.”
The Commission is currently undertaking a review of non-humanitarian aid which will be conducted “as soon as possible”, it added.
Also writing on X, British economist Mujtaba Rahman said it was his understanding that Mr Varhelyi had not consulted any of his colleagues – not even Ms von der Leyen herself – before his announcement, “Hence the fallout we have witnessed today on EU’s response to unfolding events in Israel and Gaza.”
Mr Rahman quoted one unnamed official as saying: “His move is disgusting.
“Varhelyi has been trying to cut support to the Palestinian Authority for a while now. He took advantage of the situation thinking no one would dare object. Despicable”
Spain, Luxembourg, Denmark and Ireland are all opposed to the suspension of aid, with Spain’s EU minister Jose Manuel Albares to telephone Mr Varhelyi “to express his disagreement”.
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Meanwhile Dublin said there was “no legal basis for a unilateral decision of this kind by an individual commissioner”.
Janez Lenarcic, who is the European Commissioner for Crisis Management, said: “While I most strongly condemn the terrorist attack by Hamas, it is imperative to protect civilians.
“EU humanitarian aid to Palestinians in need will continue as long as needed.”
Mr Verhofstadt was left singularly unimpressed by the apparent lack of cohesion.
He posted on X: “Total chaos from the Commission…
“It’s not so difficult to separate the good from the bad…Let’s instantly sideline all Hamas connections from far or close but by all means, continue humanitarian aid to the ordinary Palestinian people… who in the end will be twice victimised!”
The German government yesterday announced it was freezing bilateral assistance to the Palestinian territories worth £108million (€125million), pending a “comprehensive” examination, with Austrian halting aid worth £16.4million (€19million).
Express.co.uk has contacted Mr Varhelyi for comment.
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