In July 2013, the European Commission adopted guidelines preventing grants and prizes from being awarded to Israeli entities and activities in occupied Palestinian territories and preventing financial instruments such as loans being awarded to Israeli businesses with operations in occupied Palestinian territory. Until now, Israeli companies and institutions based in illegal Israeli settlements have been able to receive generous European Union grants and loans, funded by taxpayers.
- This measure attempts to ensure conformity of EU funding to Israel with the EU’s obligation under international law not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied territory. This is in line with the 10 December 2012 EU Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, which concluded that all agreements between the EU and Israel should apply to Israel only and exclude settlement activities and entities. This is also in line with the EU’s own guidelines on international humanitarian law (IHL), which provide that “when violations of IHL are reported the EU should undertake effective measures to prevent further violations”.
- The first major test of the new guidelines is currently taking place as Israel and the EU negotiate Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020. Horizon 2020 is the EU’s new seven year €80 billion research and development funding program. Israel, the only non-European invited to participate, has said it will not join Horizon 2020 science scheme, unless the European Union weakens its new guidelines.
- Israel and the US are applying significant pressure on the EU. European Union officials have spoken about the need to make concessions to Israel. The European Commission said the two sides identified « options » which might make it easier for Israel to accept the new funding regime. There is a risk that the EU will water down its own regulations in response to Israeli and US pressure.
- The guidelines already include several exemptions. For example, they do not apply to natural persons or to Israeli ministries and government agencies located in the occupied territories (but they do apply to the activities carried out by them). Israel’s threat to withdraw do not seem credible given that it is expected to receive €1 billion from Horizon 2020 despite only planning to contribute €600m, but Israel and the US are applying significant pressure on the EU. Israel and the EU are currently negotiating the terms of Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020. Talks should be concluded by early December.
- Leonello Gabrici, Head of Unit EuroMed and Regional Issues answered in September 2013 to the French Jewish Union for Peace that “the EU is ready to hear Israel’s political sensitivities and practical concerns but the guidelines do not change our position of principle. They are not subject to negotiations and the European Commission has pledged for them to come into force by 1 January 2014.”
- Fifteen former high-ranking EU officials and politicians including Javier Solana, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Hans van den Broek and Frans Andriessen have urged the EU not to bow to Israeli and US requests to alter new rules on settler funding. They said in a letter sent in September to EU foreign ministries and to EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton, that the guidelines « serve to re-iterate that the EU does not recognize and will not support settlements and other illegal facts on the ground …” and point out that « A delay or suspension of the guidelines … would [also] damage the EU’s credibility and erode its vital foundations as a law-based community, » it adds.
- The European Union must not bow to pressure to water down the new guidelines regarding Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020. The European Commission must ensure that the guidelines are applied to all EU-Israel relations. The European Parliament should work to ensure that the Commission does not water down the new guidelines.