European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a joint press conference with the European Council President at the end of a European Union summit, at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on October 27, 2023. EU leaders called for "humanitarian corridors and pauses" in Israel's war with Hamas to get aid into Gaza, after hours of negotiations at a summit of the bloc in Brussels. LEHTIKUVA / AFP

International news

An internal turmoil has emerged within the European Union institutions following the Israeli-Hamas conflict, with 842 staff members signing a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Their discontent, as reported by The Irish Times, revolves around the perceived partial stance of the Commission and the implicit endorsement of actions against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Core Grievances

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Irish Times, reveals deep-seated frustrations among EU staff. Beginning with a condemnation of Hamas' attack on Israel, the letter sharply criticizes what is seen as Israel's "disproportionate reaction" against over two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The signatories argue that the European Union’s reaction, or lack thereof, to the Gaza Strip massacre contradicts the core values of the EU.

Accusations of Double Standards

A particularly striking allegation in the letter concerns perceived double standards. The signatories compare the blockade (water and fuel) operated by Russia on Ukrainian people, condemned as an act of terror, with the identical act by Israel against Gaza, which they claim has been overlooked. This accusation underscores a broader concern about the EU's diminishing role as a "fair, equitable, and humanist broker" in international affairs and risks to the safety of EU staff.

Criticism of von der Leyen

President von der Leyen has faced scrutiny not only in the letter but also in the European Parliament and among EU national diplomats. Her unqualified support for Israel's response to the Hamas attack during her trip to Israel, and her omission of a call for respect of international law (as advocated by EU member states), has sparked considerable controversy. The letter explicitly criticizes the Commission's stance as seeming to legitimize and accelerate war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

Critisism of Von de Leyens hypocritical, unethical and unprofessional conduct goes way beyond the corridors of the EU headquarters. A recent petition calling for immediate resignation of Von der Leyen, initiated by MERA25 Germany has already received over 48000 signatures.

Internal Reaction and EU Diplomatic Concerns

The letter's wide circulation among European Commission staff and other EU institutions, alongside a publicly accessible online signature page, speaks to the scale of discontent. Signatures and messages from longstanding diplomatic staff and foreign affairs specialists reflect not only anger and disillusionment but also a sense of betrayal over the EU's departure from its foundational values and principles.

EU Commission's Response

In response to the uproar, a spokeswoman for the European Commission acknowledged the letter, emphasizing the Commission's readiness to engage and listen to both staff members and citizens. She reiterated that von der Leyen had condemned Hamas' actions and, following her Israel visit, emphasized the importance of addressing Palestinian humanitarian needs and Israel's right to self-defense as per international law.

Looking Forward

This internal backlash highlights a growing challenge within the EU regarding its foreign policy and the balancing act between diplomatic neutrality, moral responsibility, and internal consensus. The frustration among EU staff suggests a desire for a more nuanced, value-driven approach to international conflicts, reflective of the complex realities on the ground and the EU's own principles.

The letter from EU staff to President von der Leyen, extensively covered by The Irish Times, is not just about the Israeli-Hamas conflict. It's a broader reflection of discontent within the ranks of the EU over foreign policy directions, ethical standpoints, and the institution's role on the world stage. How the European Commission and its President respond to this internal criticism remains a pivotal question in shaping the future of the EU's external relations and moral standing in international affairs.