Top EU official says Europe needs Israel

Top EU official says Europe needs Israel

  •   By Herb Kenion, Published in the Jerusalem Post

    Photo: Eyal Falach

  • icon_zoom.png

    With the outbreak of the Six Day War in June 1967, a 21-year-old German student named Elmar Brok wrote to the IDF volunteering his service to protect the Jewish state.

    Fortunately, as Brok has related the story a number of times over the years to Israeli officials, the war ended quickly, before the IDF could deal with this request. Forty-six years later, Brok is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the European Parliament, a notoriously difficult forum for Israel in Brussels.

    Brok, a German Christian Democrat politician who has served in the European Parliament since 1980, is considered one of the most important figures in the European Parliament, and also one of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s top foreign policy advisers. He is also considered a friend of Israel.

    On a visit this week to Jerusalem and Ramallah, during which – among others – he met Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for nearly an hour, Brok told The Jerusalem Post that the timing of the publication last week of Europe’s new guidelines for engagement with Israeli entities beyond the Green Line was “catastrophic.”

    “Do it three months before, three months afterward, but not that week,” he said of the week in which US Secretary of State John Kerry was struggling mightily to get the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

    Not only was the timing bad, he said, but the guidelines themselves could be counterproductive for Europe, because they could chase Israel away from projects and programs that are beneficial for Europeans. To hear Israelis, such as Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, say this is one thing; but to hear influential European politicians like Brok say it is something completely different.

    And Brok says it, and he says it publicly and clearly.

    THE CONTROVERSIAL GUIDELINES essentially do two things: they concretize in writing what has already been EU practice, that no EU money – in the forms of grants, prizes, or “financial instruments” such as loans – could be used by Israeli entities beyond the pre-1967 lines, including in east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

    They also specify, however, that the contents of the guidelines will be reflected in future agreements, something known as a “territorial clause.”

    There are different ways to word that clause, in a way that Israel could live with it – as was done most recently in the Open Skies aviation agreement – or using terminology that Israel will not be able to stomach.

    The Open Skies agreement read: “The application of this agreement is understood to be without prejudice to the status of the territories that came under Israel’s administration after June 1967.”

    That is language Israel can live with.

    By contrast, the territorial clause of a draft for the next stage of the Euro- Med Youth Program read, “This agreement will be implemented in conformity with the European Union’s position that the territories that came under Israel’s administration in June 1967 are not part of the territory of Israel.”

    That is wording Israel will not sign, not the least because it runs contrary to Israel’s own laws – Israel has formally annexed both Jerusalem and the Golan.

    This issue will become very relevant next month, when negotiations begin on the EU’s massive 80 billion euro Horizon 2020 innovation flagship program meant to create jobs and fuel economic growth. Israel is the only non- EU country to have been asked to join as a full partner, and is expected to pay some 600 million euros over the next seven years to take part. This is considered a worthwhile investment, however, because for every shekel contributed, it is expected to get back NIS 1.5 in research funds and other inbound investments.

    And here, Brok said, the Europeans need to be smart. The new guidelines will not go into effect until January 1, 2014, and in the meantime Israeli and European officials are expected to work on language that both sides can live with. Brok said that the EU position should be one that “takes the peace talks into account,” and also one that does not take up a position that is detrimental to European interests.

    “I am not quite sure that it is only an Israeli advantage to have Horizon cooperation,” he said, bluntly. “I think it is a European interest. It would be stupid of us if we do not continue this cooperation. Because it is very much to our advantage".

    Brok acknowledged that “the quality of Israeli research” is among the best in the world, “and it would be stupid from our side to boycott that.” This sentiment, he said, was shared by many EU foreign ministers with whom he met last week.

    The guidelines that were published made clear what the European position on the settlements is, Brok said (as if anyone had any doubt). But now when negotiations begin about how to implement those guidelines and the wording of future territorial clauses, it needs to be done in such a way as to not hurt the peace talks, “and that we should not come to the wrong results regarding overall cooperation [with Israel] in research and development.”

    Make no mistake, Brok is not opposed to the guidelines. He questions, however, their timing and wants to ensure that the sides come to a “common interpretation” of what they mean and how and where they will be applied.

    To read the full article, click here.