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State of the Union: Israel-Hamas conflict dominates EU leaders' summit

Leaders talk during a round table at an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023
Leaders talk during a round table at an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023 Copyright Omar Havana/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Omar Havana/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Isabel da Silva
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The European Union's autumn summit, held this week in Brussels, was attended by a new prime minister who is a well-known face of the centre-left.

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Robert Fico is once again leading a government in Slovakia, but now on a much more populist and Eurosceptic basis, as well as a pro-Russian viewpoint.

Almost right on cue and hours before the start of the summit Thursday, Slovakia announced that it will no longer support European efforts to arm Kyiv in its defence against Russia.

And with the war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas going on, this European summit was essentially a war council.

Ukraine is always on the agenda, but this time around a large part of the debate centred on the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"A total siege is not in line with international law. I confirm, it’s a principle of international law," President of the European Council, Charles Michel said on Thursday.

"There is a serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which is why we think the EU should do anything that is possible to help resolve the issue of humanitarian access."

Global Gateway summit kicks off

Before joining the summit, some EU leaders also took part in the second day of the so-called Global Gateway forum.

This is the bloc's infrastructure partnership plan to rival China's Belt and Road Initiative in areas like digital, climate & energy, and health & education.

The EU announced a series of new investment agreements with developing countries in Africa and Asia.

The €300 billion plan, covering funds up to 2027, is also conceived as an instrument to expand the bloc's geopolitical influence in the world.

On Wednesday, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, presented the EU as a "better choice" in development cooperation.

"Global Gateway is about giving countries a choice, and a better choice because for many countries around the world, investment options are not only limited, but they all come with a lot of small print and a very high price," von der Leyen said. 

"Sometimes it is the environment that pays the price. Sometimes it is workers, who are stripped of their rights. Sometimes foreign workers are brought in and sometimes it is national sovereignty that is compromised."

One of the countries that signed a new partnership was Bangladesh, worth almost €400 million.

It is a country of 170 million inhabitants that, in 50 years of independence, went from being one of the poorest in the world to being on the verge of obtaining the United Nations classification as a middle-income nation.

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Bangladesh has been a partner in the Chinese initiative for some years now and does not intend to abandon it.

But there is still a lot to do, and according to Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, Europe's help is one of many.

"I think it is a big opportunity because we just were selected and we graduated from Least Developed Country. That will help to develop our country more," she told Euronews.

"And another thing I am telling you is that Bangladesh's foreign policy is very clear:  Friendship to all is friendship to none.

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"Actually, we get loans and then repay the bill with interest. So, for our development, we try to have every, you know, thing which will be beneficial for our country."

UN Secretary-General under fire

War in the Middle East continued to dominate headlines throughout the week though, in large part due to the unprecedented criticism of UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.

The Israeli government demanded the resignation of the former Portuguese politician serving his second term as chief of the UN, after comments he made about Israel's "clear violations" of humanitarian law, emphasising that no state is above the law.

The UN Secretary-General now faces criticism from a state with powerful allies and political influence in the international community.

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His initial response did not row back his words, but this could be the beginning of a situation that grows in importance.

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