The bloc’s foreign affairs chief wrongly claimed there was agreement on the need for a “humanitarian pause” in Gaza
Senior EU diplomat Stefan Sannino made the rounds among the bloc’s member states to explain and apologize for foreign affairs chief Josep Borell’s erroneous claim that the bloc had reached an agreement on the need for a “pause” in hostilities in Gaza, three fellow diplomats told Politico on Sunday.
Borrell had ignited controversy when he claimed late last month that there was a “basic consensus” regarding the need for a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting between Israel and Hamas. At the time, however, there was anything but – it took another four days just to agree on the wording of the resolution, and that text ultimately called for ‘humanitarian pauses’, plural.
The distinction matters, according to Politico, because the singular term could be interpreted as calling for a longer ceasefire – something several EU countries, including Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, are explicitly avoiding as they fear it will be perceived by Israel as a challenge to its right to “self-defense.”
Sannino, the secretary-general of the European External Action Service, engaged in what one fellow diplomat described as damage control – “a way to apologize” for Borrell’s speaking out of turn – during a meeting of ambassadors that followed the foreign affairs ministers’ meeting where the comments were made.
“Everyone knew this was not Sannino’s fault, he’s being criticized because of Borrell’s comments,” the individual said. Others viewed Sannino’s words as more of an explanation of Borrell’s remarks than an apology.
An EU spokesperson attempted to further clarify Borrell’s words to Politico, explaining that the diplomat had clearly stated “that many positions were voiced in the room during the first discussion among the 27 member states on a humanitarian pause, and an overwhelming majority was in favor of it.”
The EU has struggled to reach agreement regarding the war in Gaza, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s unalloyed support for Israel clashing with Borrell’s own backing of a ceasefire.
Even after the bloc agreed on the wording of its resolution, Borrell continued to post his pleas for a “pause of hostilities,” singular, “to enable humanitarian access” on X (formerly Twitter). He also criticized Israel for killing “far too many civilians, including children,” even while demanding “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” by Hamas.
While von der Leyen is technically the senior official, Borrell pointed out following her controversial visit to Israel last month 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. He stressed that while the EU supports Israel’s right to self-defense, that right is limited by international law.