We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

European Council summit

Varadkar fears if EU reaches position to call for ceasefire it will be 'after a lot more people have died'

Taoiseach says in some ways he hopes the EU will not have to call for a ceasefire as it will probably mean that things have escalated in the region.

LAST UPDATE | 27 Oct 2023

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said “it’s hard to predict’ if the European Union will call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the future, stating if that position is eventually reached it would only be “after a lot more people have died and suffered in the region”. 

After five hours of talks, an agreed statement was published, calling for “humanitarian corridors and pauses” so humanitarian aid can enter Gaza, but the statement fell short of demanding a “ceasefire”.

Speaking in Brussels, on the second day of the European Council meeting, Varadkar said he is “satisfied” with the language contained in the agreed statement by the 27 EU leaders, stating that a “compromise” had to be reached.

When asked by The Journal if Europe will eventually call for a ceasefire down the road,  Varadkar said:

“It’s hard to predict. I think that is possible, depending on how things develop on the ground.

In some ways, I hope that doesn’t happen because if the European Union got to that position, that it was calling for a ceasefire, it probably would be after a lot more people have died and suffered in the region.

“So hopefully, in some ways, it doesn’t come to that, but I think it is possible that could be the position in a few weeks or a few months time to answer to your question.”

He added: “I’m satisfied with the language, it was always going to be difficult to come to a compromise language that 27 countries with very different perspectives could sign up to. That was done yesterday.”

He pointed to the statement and how it condemned Hamas and the terrorist attacks that occurred against Israel on 7 October while also recognising Israel’s right to defend itself within the rules of international law.

“And also calling for a pause or pauses so that humanitarian aid can get in, so the hostages can get out and so that US citizens can leave if they choose to do so,” he said.

Over the last couple of weeks there has been an evolving European position on the conflict, the Taoiseach said, stating that it could evolve further. 

“If you went back to three weeks ago, it appeared that the European Union was supporting Israel without any equivocation or qualification – that changed a week or so ago to continuing to support Israel’s right to defend itself but emphasising the supremacy of international law, humanitarian law, to yesterday, 27 countries calling for a pause to allow aid to get in and to allow citizens and hostages to get out. So I think you’re seeing an evolving position there,” said Varadkar. 

Omission of word ‘ceasefire’

When asked what he would say to the people in Ireland that believe the EU is not strong enough on the situation, who are seeing thousands of children dying in Gaza and who see EU leaders unable to use the word ceasefire, the Taoiseach said on issues of foreign policy, it is difficult for Europe to be on the same page.

The European Union is an “interesting construct”, stating that there has to be a common position on things like the single market, agricultural policy, but that doesn’t extend to foreign policy and defence.

“Because decisions have to be made by unanimity, inevitably, any decision is going to be a compromise. The option we have into the future is to have a common foreign policy. That means being willing to be out voted on occasion and I think people would be uncomfortable with that too. But that’s a debate I think for another day,” he said. 

Following the agreement last night, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said told reporters that it “all started with a horrible attack on the people of Israel”, adding that it is “important that we acknowledge the pain and suffering of the israeli people and families that lost relatives”.

If Europe wants to speak to Israel and use its influence, “it is so important you first listen if you want to be listened”, she said, 

In what could be seen as a nod to her visit to Israel, one which drew a lot of criticism, von der Leyen said it was “good that so many leaders travelled to Israel to listen”, while also conveying the need to respond within international law.

In contrast, Varadkar said “the history of this conflict didn’t begin with the attacks on October 7, and won’t end with a land war in Gaza”.

“It’s very, very clear. 75 years or more of conflict between Israel the Arabs, wars, terrorist attacks, huge instability. This won’t end because of the military solution, it can’t. And one of the things we agreed yesterday and all 27 countries agreed to this is that there should be a two-state solution and that we need to have a peace conference and the European Union need to be a part of that,” he said.

Concerns of escalation in the wider region

The Journal asked the Taoiseach to respond to news that the US had launched airstrikes on two locations in eastern Syria linked to Iran’s revolutionary guard corps, however, Varadkar did not want to comment as he had only heard of the events on the way to the summit this morning. 

However, he did state that everyone is of course concerned that the conflict in Gaza could escalate to the wider regions “involving the West Bank, involving Hezbollah, involving Lebanon, involving Iran and others – that is a big concern I think we all have”. 

It really emphasises the need for a pause, being able to get humanitarian aid in, hostages out, EU citizens being allowed to leave and then in time moving to a peace conference and I think the European Union has a role to play in that regard,” he said. 

Political Editor Christina Finn reporting from the European Council meeting in Brussels