Note on EU-policy on Iraq, Gaza and Ukraine from June to August 2014

12/09/2014 14:24

The European Union has not remained silent over the waves of violence in Northern Iraq, Gaza and Ukraine as is documented in the note below. It has repeatedly expressed its concerns and condemned the attacks; in the case of Ukraine it has also taken some concrete measures. However, it is questionable whether EU´s responses to these crisis have been effective, prompt and coherent enough.




The Foreign Affairs Council showed itself in its conclusions on 23 June 2014 concerned about deterioration of the security situation in Iraq and strongly condemned the attacks perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) against Iraqi citizens. The Council stressed the necessity of a sustainable political solution which first of all required a truly inclusive government involving all Iraqi leaders and communities. The Council also repeatedly called on the regional actors to contribute to the stabilisation of the security situation in Iraq and expressed on behalf of the EU the commitment to advance the implementation of the EU-Iraq Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA).     


The European Parliament in its Resolution of 17 July 2014 built upon the Council conclusions and made a particular reference to the dramatically dropping number of Iraq´s Christians and warned that “(…) anti-Christian views of the IS increase the risk of sectarian killings on a massive scale (… )”. Furthermore, the Parliament called on the EU to facilitate a regional dialogue on the problems of the Middle East including all significant parties and to promote international co-operation in order to take legal actions against individuals, in many cases EU-citizens, who are suspected of having joined the IS insurgency.


After only a brief discussion about the situation in Iraq at the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 July 2014 (“deep concern about the rapidly deteriorating security situation” and “strongly condemning the attacks perpetrated by the ISIL” ), the Council at its meeting on 15 August welcomed the decision of individual Member States (inter alia France, Germany, Czech Republic) to provide the Kurdish regional authorities with military material upon the consent of the Iraqi national authorities to fight the attacks of ISIL which might constitute crimes against humanity. At the same time the Council reiterated the need for a political and inclusive solution of the current crisis to which the nomination of the new Prime-Minister-designate, Mr. Heider Al Abadi might be a positive step.


The European Council - out of the 3 meetings it held during the summer period - only had the situation in Iraq on its agenda at its most recent meeting on 30 August. It particularly called for two major actions: as the establishment of the Caliphate poses a direct threat to Europe due to a high number of EU-citizens joining the terrorist group, the European Council requested determined action to combat radicalisation and extremism and stem the flow of foreign fighters by implementing the package of measures as agreed by the European Council in June 2013, incl. an EU passenger name record system. In addition, it requested the Council to use restrictive measures more effectively, particularly to deny ISIL the benefits of oil sales on international markets.


Over the period of the last two months, the European Commission also increased its humanitarian aid to Iraq by 5 million euro (with an overall funding for Iraq in 2014 amounting to 17 million euro), opened an EU humanitarian office in Erbil and activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to facilitate and support the deployment of in-kind assistance and expertise to Iraq at the request of its government.




In the wake of the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip end of June 2014, the Council prolonged the EU police mission for the Palestinian Territories (EUPOL COPPS) until 30 June 2015 as part of EU efforts in support of Palestinian State building. The mission is focusing on assisting with building institutions and performing security and justice sector reforms reinforcing the rule of law. Equally until 30 June 2015, the EU also prolonged the mandate of its border assistance mission for the Rafah crossing point (EUBAM Rafah).


The European Council at its meeting on 16 July condemned the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel and stressed Israel´s right to protect its population while laying emphasis on the proportionality principle and ensuring the protection of civilians. The European Council called on both sides of the conflict to reach a cease-fire agreement and welcomed Egypt´s facilitation efforts in this respect.  The European Council further reiterated the need for a sustainable political solution and called for the resumption of the diplomatic peace process to whose initiation the EU expressed its readiness.


In its conclusions of 22 July, the Foreign Affairs Council set out four parameters on which such a sustainable and comprehensive solution should be based. These include an agreement on the borders of two states based on the 1967 borders; arrangements respecting Palestinian sovereignty and protecting Israel´s security; a fair solution of the refugee question and finally resolving the status of Jerusalem as the capital of both states. In case of reaching a final peace agreement in these terms, the EU expressed its readiness to offer both states a Special Privileged Partnership.  


The European Parliament in its Resolution of 17 July 2014 called on the United Nations Security Council to find an adequate solution as well as on the EU to play a more active role in facilitating direct peace talks.


The EEAS condemned in a number of statements the violent acts of both parties and repeatedly called for a ceasefire.  In its meeting on 15 August 2014, the Foreign Affairs Council expressed the commitment of the EU to develop effective actions with regard to movement and access, capacity building, monitoring, post-conflict reconstruction incl. organising an international donors´conference and extending the scope and mandate of its two missions (EUBAM RAFAH and EUPOL COPPS). Furthermore, the Council decided that the EU will study options for an internationally- supervised mechanism to enable full access and movement through all Gaza ports of entry and to contribute to arrangements that prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition to the Gaza Strip.


The European Council in its meeting on 30 August welcomed the cease-fire agreement in Gaza and urged both parties to re-engage in negotiations. In view of the disastrous humanitarian situation, the European Council called for unrestricted humanitarian access.


The EU itself increased humanitarian aid in Gaza by 5 million euro, bringing the Commission´s total humanitarian funding in Gaza to 23.5 million euro for 2014.  




As part of the EU´s non-recognition policy regarding the annexation of Crimea, the Foreign Affairs Council prohibited on 23 June 2014 the import of goods originating in Crimea or Sevastopol into the EU with the exception of those accompanied by a Ukrainian certificate.


The Council also expressed support for Ukraine President Poroshenko´s Peace Plan and called on the parties to reach a ceasefire agreement and create conditions implementing the Peace Plan (Russia shall ensure stopping the flow of illegal fighters, arms and equipment over the Russian border to Ukraine, withdraw its troops from the border area and use its influence on the separatists to end the violence and release the hostages).


The Council also completed the preparatory work for the signature of the remaining parts of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement incl. the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (AA/DCFTA), which was subsequently signed on 27 June.


At the same meeting, the Council also envisaged the establishment of an unarmed, non-executive civilian mission under the EU´s Common Security and Defence Policy (EUAM Ukraine) to assist Ukraine with the reform of the civilian security sector, police and the rule of law. The mission was subsequently established on 22 July and its Head Kálmán Mizsei arrived in Kyiv on 8 August.


The European Council at its meeting on 26/27 June 2014 set out four measures that it expected to be fulfilled by 30 June: agreement on a ceasefire and effective control of borders; return of three border checkpoints to the Ukrainian authorities; release of hostages and launch of negotiations on the implementation of President Poroshenko´s Peace Plan.


In view of Russia´s  non-compliance with the measures set out, the European Council requested on 16 July to strengthen the sanctions against Russia. First of all, the list of persons subject to a travel ban and freeze of their assets within the EU for actions undermining Ukraine´s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence has been extended. Furthermore, the designation criteria for sanctions have been extended to include entities which are materially or financially supporting such actions, and later also persons and entities that actively support or are benefitting from Russian decision-makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea or the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine. Currently, asset freezes and visa bans apply to 95 persons and 23 entities.


Upon the request of the European Council of 16 July, the Council adopted on 28 July a ban on new investment in Crimea and Sevastopol in certain sectors, such as infrastructure, telecommunications, energy as well as a ban on finance and insurance services for such transactions.


The European Council further requested the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to suspend the signature of new financing operations in Russia. Another diplomatic measure concerns the EU-Russia summit which was cancelled and EU-Russia cooperation programmes are being re-assessed with a view to possible suspension of its implementation.


In the wake of the downing of the flight MH17 in Eastern Ukraine, the Foreign Affairs Council requested on 22 July the Commission and the EEAS to table additional restrictive measures of economic nature against Russia. These measures were adopted by the Council on 31 July and comprise the limitation of access to EU capital markets for Russian State-owned financial institutions; an embargo on trade in arms; an export ban for dual use of goods for military end users and limitation of Russian access to sensitive technologies particularly in the field of the oil sector [the measures would only apply to new contracts].        


In its Resolution of 17 July, the European Parliament stressed inter alia the need to address the issue of energy security in Europe and ensuring necessary gas supply to Ukraine. In this respect, the EU (through Energy Commissioner Oettinger) has been acting as a moderator in trilateral talks on gas together with Russian and Ukrainian authorities. The next meeting is due to take place in early September with a view to reaching an interim solution for the gas supply based on an interim price (while waiting for the Stockholm arbitration court to decide on the final price). Trilateral talks incl. a consultation mechanism have also been held on the potential economic risks of the AA/DCFTA between Russia and Ukraine (next meeting is scheduled for 12 September).


In response to the import restrictions for certain EU agricultural products introduced by Russia on 6 August, the European Commission took a series of emergency measures aimed at reducing oversupply and thus stabilising the EU agricultural and food markets (inter alia a system weekly monitoring the price of the concerned products, market withdrawals for free distribution, compensation for non-harvesting, etc.).


The Foreign Affairs Council in its meeting on 15 August condemned any unilateral military actions of Russia in Ukraine, incl. humanitarian. On the other hand, the EU has been providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine in close cooperation with the UN and increased the assistance by additional 2.5 million euro.


At its meeting on 30 August, the European Council condemned the aggression by Russian armed forces on Ukrainian soil and called on Russia to immediately withdraw all its military assets and forces from Ukraine. Recalling its previous statements the European Council reiterated the need for a sustainable political solution to the crisis based on President Poroshenko´s Peace Plan. The European Council further requested the Commission and the EEAS to present significant further steps against Russia within a week.   




The challenges occurring in EU´s neighourhood are highlighting once again the lack of strategic thinking in EU´s security and defence policy. The EU is a soft power. In terms of performing military interventions to stop violent terror attacks, it is the UN Security Council that is to be addressed in the first place.


However, even for a soft power it is necessary to have a certain kind of integrated defence and security capacities. Since the European Security Strategy from 2003, no strategic principle-paper has been adopted by the EU. The European Council in December 2013 expressed in this respect the need to increase the effectiveness, visibility and impact of the Common Security and Defence Policy. The President-designate of the new European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, set out in his Programme a priority of developing forms of a permanent structured cooperation between Member States wishing to pool their defence capabilities in order to fully use the potential the Lisbon Treaty offers in this respect and to be able to engage in joint EU missions in crisis zones if necessary.      


Other means of EU´s response to the crisis concern the provision of humanitarian assistance which the EU has also taken up with regard to all the three crisis. In this respect, however it is worth mentioning the outcome of the Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on 2 September that called for a review of the bureaucratic burdens of the budgetary procedure in order to deliver aid faster.    


EU´s migration and asylum policy also needs to develop appropriate strategies of receiving the increased numbers of refugees from the crisis-affected regions.  The EU should also make efficient use of the fact that it is a major economic partner of a number of countries and thus use its influence to exercise pressure on those which are engaged or support illegal acts of violence.


Finally, the protection of religious freedom and the prevention of extremism and radicalisation need to play an important role on EU´s Foreign Affairs agenda (in particular the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy), especially taking into account the current atrocities committed on religious minorities in Northern Iraq.   


Marek Misak

Assistant to the Secretary General of Justice and Peace Europe


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