Berlin and Madrid clinch agreement to urge ‘humanitarian pauses’ — but other member parties refuse to sign up.
MÁLAGA, Spain — Europe’s Social Democrats on Saturday unanimously cheered Pedro Sánchez’s likely return to power in Spain after he agreed to an amnesty for Catalan separatists — but they found it harder to reach a common position on Israel’s war against Hamas.
Socialist parties from across the Continent gathered at their annual meeting in southern Spain to chart a course for the EU elections next June, warn about the rise of far-right populists, and cheer on Frans Timmermans, who is leading an alliance with the Greens in the Dutch elections this month.
There was a triumphal mood at the meeting as delegates chanted “Pedro presidente” and treated Sánchez to rapturous applause. Choreography aside, however, the gulf between Berlin and Madrid on the Middle East conflict was plain to see.
Sánchez in a speech to the gathering demanded a “humanitarian cease-fire” in Gaza, where Israel’s retaliatory strikes and ground invasion have claimed some 11,000 lives, including women and children, since the country suffered an attack last month by Hamas militants who killed 1,400 people and took 240 hostages. French President Emmanuel Macron has also called for a cease-fire.
In Spain on Saturday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, however, stuck to the European Council’s previous request for humanitarian pauses in the fighting. While he underlined the need for Israel to adhere to international law, Scholz brushed off the notion of an outright cease-fire.
“It is also right that Israel manages to defeat Hamas, which would otherwise only continue where it left off with the barbaric attack on children and elderly people in Israel,” Scholz told reporters.
All the sensitive discussions took place behind closed doors in Málaga’s cavernous trade fair and congress center.
By the time the EU-level Party of European Socialists (PES) published its “final” resolution on Friday there was no mention of the Israel-Hamas war because national delegations failed to agree on the wording. It wasn’t until after party leaders, including Scholz and Sánchez, had dined Friday evening, and the PES leadership met early Saturday, that the wording was agreed and retroactively added to the resolution.
“The humanitarian tragedy in Gaza must stop. We call firmly for humanitarian pauses to achieve the provision of basic necessities such as water, food, electricity, fuel and medical supplies,” the final wording stated.
But while Germany’s Social Democratic Party, Spain’s Socialists and Italy’s Democratic Party backed the language, others still disagreed. The Dutch Labour Party, Irish Labour Party, the French Socialist Party, and both Belgian Socialist parties all opted out of agreeing to the added wording, according to several officials and politicians.
Belgian Socialist Caroline Gennez, who is her country’s minister of development cooperation, said: “The retaliation that Israel is doing for the terrorist attacks is beyond proportion and that’s also the position of the Belgian government; so it would be strange if we could agree here.” She added that both the Flemish and Wallonian socialist parties opted out.
MEP Mohammed Chahim from the Dutch Labour Party and MEP Christophe Clergeau from the French Socialists said each of their parties also opted out.
“We had hoped frankly that we’d be able to persuade others to join us in calling for a cease-fire,” said Irish Labour leader Ivana Bacik. “I do think that it’s no longer any sort of very radical proposition and that as Socialists and Social Democrats, we should have been able to sign up to that. But I do appreciate that there were other parties and other delegations that were coming from very different historical contexts.”
That subtext was, of course, Germany’s historical support of Israel because of the Holocaust.
Javi López, a Spanish Socialist MEP from Catalonia, said the choice to call for pauses rather than a cease-fire in the final text was a “compromise” and a “concession” to the German Social Democrats.
“Everybody knows the position of Germany and the particularity of Germany on that but obviously it was important to have a political statement about this during the congress,” he said.
Giacomo Filibeck, who became secretary general of the Party of European Socialists at the meeting, acknowledged that parties debated the question of a cease-fire, but he played down the divisions overall. “This is the only element that has been an object of an internal debate,” he said.
Filibeck said there was unanimous agreement among national parties to condemn Hamas, to support Israel’s right to self-defense, to stop the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, to hold an international peace conference and to work toward a two-state solution.
“There may be some few parties with some specific positioning on the item of the cease-fire, but the unanimity of the family is both on condemning Hamas and being against civilian victims in Gaza,” he said.
With Sánchez poised to form another progressive coalition government, Berlin and Madrid are now the power bases of Europe’s center-left — pending Dutch elections in 11 days where former European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans is vying for power at the head of a joint ticket with the Greens. Timmermans was spotted giving a rousing pep talk in Dutch to party officials outside the conference venue on Friday evening.
The Berlin-Madrid power base is even more entrenched since Portugal’s Socialist government fell amid a corruption scandal, which also sparked the resignation of Prime Minister António Costa, who was being talked up as a key talisman in the Socialists’ EU elections campaign.
Spain’s Sánchez paid tribute to his Iberian compañero — who was absent. Some such as Filibeck expressed a wish that the Portuguese judicial investigation would clear Costa and quickly.
Politicians such as López and Bacik, however, insisted the discussions about names did not begin in earnest this weekend. Applications to find the Socialist’s lead candidate, or spitzenkandidat, will open Monday — kickstarting a process that will culminate at a congress to be held in Italy early next year.