A new European Commission will be installed on November 1 as the European Union's executive body for the next five years. The previous Commission, headed by the Portuguese politician José Manuel Barroso, will be replaced by one led by Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxemburg. Unfortunately, there is no indication that the new Commission will be less biased in its attitudes against Israel than the old one.
Catherine Ashton was the Commissioner responsible for foreign affairs under Barroso This British baroness never concealed her anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish bias. In September 2011, Ashton praised Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad in a speech in the European Parliament, saying: "They are people who believe in the values we hold." In March 2012, she publicly displayed her anti-Semitism by comparing Mohammed Merah's attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, in which three Jewish children and a rabbi were murdered, with "what is happening in Gaza." And last January, she issued a short statement on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in which she managed to avoid the words Jews and anti-Semitism.
Ashton will be replaced by Frederica Mogherini as the EU's next High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Like Ashton, Mogherini during the Cold War was active in movements that advocated Western disarmament. That seems to have become a prerequisite for acquiring the top EU foreign policy position.
Catherine Ashton, the current EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security (left), and Frederica Mogherini, who is planned to be Ashton's successor.
Mogherini was a member of the Italian Communist Party until its dissolution in 1996. Before becoming Italy's Foreign Minister only six months ago, she was active in leftist NGOs. Barely two years ago, in 2012, she showed her pro-Palestinian sympathies by posting on her blog a picture of her visit to Yasser Arafat in 2002. The picture has meanwhile been removed from the blog, but can still be found on the internet.
In July, however, Mogherini made a good impression on the Israeli political establishment when she visited the Israeli border town of Ashdod, which is under frequent Hamas rocket-fire from Gaza. While stating that she was "very much concerned" about the civilian casualties from the Israeli bombardments in Gaza, she also expressed her sympathy with the people of Ashdod. "As a mother I understand very well the pressure and the tension in Ashdod," she said.
Israel expects Mogherini to be an improvement to Ashton. The latter was so biased against Israel that it is hardly imaginable that her successor could be worse.
Jerusalem is also pleased with the appointment of the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as the new president of the European Council, the institution where the 28 governments of the EU member states meet.
In an interview last April with Israel National News, Professor Uri Rosenthal, minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands until 2012, explained the mechanics of the anti-Israeli decision making in the European Council. Rosenthal pointed out some patterns which can be seen in the positions of the various EU member states towards Israel. Northern European countries tend to be extremely critical of Israel, he said. One of the most vociferous is Ireland. Rosenthal thinks that the common background of the IRA and the PLO might be an explanation for this. Luxemburg, too, is apparently very much against Israel. This is due to the pro-Palestinian sentiments of Jean Asselborn, the Luxemburg minister of Foreign Affairs. Asselborn was the deputy of Jean-Claude Juncker as Prime Minister of Luxemburg.
According to Rosenthal, the picture is mixed among Southern European governments, with Italy being friendlier towards Israel than Spain and Portugal. The best friends of Israel in the European Council can be found in Central Europe. The Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania tend to be pro-Israel. This is less so for Hungary, Rosenthal said, while Poland's position is "from time to time disappointing." The Baltic states are "not a priori against Israel."
Rosenthal did not mention it in his interview, but during the past two years, his own country, the Netherlands, has shifted from being one of the most outspoken friends of Israel within the European Council to being one of its fiercest critics. This happened after Rosenthal, who is Jewish and married to an Israeli, was replaced as Dutch Foreign Minister by Frans Timmermans, an outspokenly pro-Palestinian Social-Democrat. The first thing Timmermans did upon coming into office in November 2012 was to condemn Israel for its building projects in east Jerusalem.
Timmermans has meanwhile been appointed the next Dutch representative in the European Commission. While Mogherini may be an improvement to Ashton, the appointment of Frans Timmermans is bad news for Israel. Timmermans will be given a top position in the Commission, where he becomes the deputy of Commission president Juncker.
It is no improvement either that the German Social-Democrat Martin Schulz has been reappointed as Speaker of the European Parliament. Last February, Schulz sparked an uproar during a speech in the Israeli Knesset when he criticized Israel over alleged limitations on the amount of water which he claims Palestinians are allowed by Israel. The figures Schulz was used turned out to be false, but he had not taken the trouble to check them.
There is no reason for Israel to have high hopes. During the next five years, the EU's policies and attitudes toward Israel are not likely to change.