EC issues statement clarifying Hungarian member's post on Palestinian aid

October 10. 2023. – 01:37 PM



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The European Commission has issued a statement clarifying how the words of its Hungarian member, Olivér Várhelyi (Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement) on aid to the Palestinians are to be understood.

Nothing to suspend

The Hungarian government's former ambassador to the EU published a post on X (former Twitter) on Monday, saying that the EU was suspending all development aid to the Palestinians with immediate effect due to the "scale of terror and brutality" of the attack on Israel and would put its €691 million "development portfolio" under review.

According to EUrologus and Euractiv, this statement has prompted protests from several governments, with the Irish government's department of foreign affairs arguing that “there is no legal basis for a unilateral decision of this kind by an individual Commissioner”.

However, according to a statement from the European Commission

"as there were no payments foreseen, there will be no suspension of payment".

The EU does not support Hamas in Gaza, but the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank

As Eric Mamer, senior spokesman for the European Commission, explained on Monday,

"the EU does not support Hamas or its activities in any way".

Instead, the EU provides assistance to the Palestinian Authority, which is led by the more moderate Fatah. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip in the south-western corner of historic Palestine and has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which began on Saturday and effectively consisted of terror attacks against civilians. The Palestinian Authority governs the region known as the West Bank.

Spokesperson for the EU's Neighbourhood Policy, Ana Pisonero reminded that the EU has long since declared Hamas a terrorist organisation and therefore has no contact with it and does not support it either directly or indirectly. The EU screens those who receive donations and applies strict rules to ensure that EU funds do not end up with terrorist organisations like Hamas.

Humanitarian aid not Várhelyi's department

Olivér Várhelyi's statement also caused confusion because shortly after his post, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Janez Lenarčič said that the most urgent aid to the Palestinians would continue "as long as necessary", adding:

"While I most strongly condemn the terrorist attack by Hamas, it is imperative to protect civilians and respect International Humanitarian Law."

According to the Commission's official statement, the review announced by Olivér Várhelyi, “does not concern humanitarian assistance provided under European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).” This is handled by a separate directorate general within the European Commission, not the one responsible for neighbourhood policy under Olivér Várhelyi. (Directorates are roughly equivalent to state secretariats in national governments, while commissioners are the same as ministers.) This directorate general, ECHO, under Commissioner Janez Lenarčič, is also mentioned in the Commission's statement.

The head of the European Council, Charles Michel, said that there was no justification for Hamas' terrorist attacks and that Israel had the right to defend itself. At the same time, “we must not cut off much needed development and humanitarian aid for civilian Palestinians, as this could be exploited by Hamas and exacerbate tensions.”

Who would have thought that short messages could cause confusion?

Olivér Várhelyi's post could have caused confusion simply because of the way X works. Since a maximum of 280 characters are allowed in a single post, longer texts are usually broken down into several snippets following each other. (The blue checkmark, originally invented to indicate official accounts and also present on Várhelyi's profile, was supposed to be used to increase this limit, but this service is only available to customers in the US.)

The Hungarian Commissioner's account first announced that the €691 million "development portfolio" was under review. Then a further comment said that "all payments were immediately suspended". So, presumably, he didn't mean all aid, including humanitarian aid, but only aid for development.

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