European Commission will examine call from Ireland and Spain to review trade deal with Israel

Leo Varadkar and Pedro Sánchez send joint letter to Ursula von der Leyen about potential breaches of human rights obligations

A call from Ireland and Spain for the EU’s trade agreement with Israel to be urgently reviewed will be examined by the European Commission.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez sent a letter making the request to commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday amid deep concern over the deteriorating situation in Gaza.

They want the review to consider whether Israel is complying with human rights obligations under the EU-Israel Association Agreement and ask that the commission propose “appropriate measures” that could be taken if Israel is found to be in breach of these obligations.

There is an expectation among at least some officials in Dublin that the commission will have to carry out a review of the trade agreement after the “significant” intervention by Ireland and Spain.


Others said that while the commission would have to offer a “serious response”, it was hard to speculate on what it would do.

A spokeswoman said the commission would “look into” the request for a review.

She said: “We do urge all sides when it comes to Israel to respect international law and we note that there must be accountability for violation of international law.”

She added that the EU “deplores all loss of civilian lives” and “continues to pass these messages in its statements but also bilaterally in its contacts with Israeli authorities”.

The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner and any threat to that relationship is the most potent leverage held by Brussels.

There are signs of fraying patience with Israel even among its closest allies in the EU, with Germany joining the United States in voicing alarm over plans for an invasion of Rafah, where much of Gaza’s civilian population has been driven.

However, a small group of hardline supporters of Israel has consistently blocked or watered down tougher action by the EU, and the proposal to review the trade agreement would be likely to face their opposition.

Should the commission decide to carry out a review, any proposed actions that resulted would then need the approval of EU member states.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that any suspension of the agreement “may well require unanimity” among EU countries.

In their letter, Mr Varadkar and Mr Sánchez write that they are “deeply concerned” at “the impact the ongoing conflict is having on innocent Palestinians”.

They add: “The expanded Israeli military operation in the Rafah area poses a grave and imminent threat that the international community must urgently confront.”

They noted their repeated condemnation of the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th and call for the immediate and unconditional release of remaining hostages.

Fighting along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon escalated on Wednesday.

A female soldier was killed when Hizbullah fired a rocket barrage at a military base close to Israel’s northern city of Safed, according to an Israeli government spokesperson.

In response, Israeli air force jets carried out extensive waves of attacks on Lebanese territory, killing four people – including a woman and her two children – Lebanese security sources said.

As the fighting raged in the north, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered his negotiating team not to return to Cairo on Thursday for further talks with US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators to secure a Gaza ceasefire and release the 134 hostages who have been in captivity for 131 days.

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Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem