Over 70 MEPs call for the resignation of Commissioner Várhelyi after fiasco over Palestinian aid

European Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi was heavily criticised for announcing the suspension of "all payments" to the Palestinian authorities.
European Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi was heavily criticised for announcing the suspension of "all payments" to the Palestinian authorities. Copyright European Union, 2023.
By Jorge LiboreiroShona Murray & Sandor Zsiros
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More than 70 Members of the European Parliament have asked for the resignation of Olivér Várhelyi, the Commissioner who last week misleadingly announced the suspension of "all payments" to the Palestinian authorities.


Várhelyi's surprising move came in the early days of the Israel-Hamas war and made international headlines, with media outlets conveying the news as if the European Union had halted all foreign aid, including humanitarian funds, at a time of increasing human suffering in the Gaza Strip.

"There can be no business as usual," Várhelyi wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

It took several hours for the European Commission to clarify that humanitarian funds would continue to flow while an "urgent review" takes place on the development assistance that has been earmarked but not yet disbursed.

The Commission later admitted that Várhelyi had acted on his own personal initiative and had not secured the blessing of President Ursula von der Leyen prior to publishing the messages online.

"The announcement which was made by Commissioner Várhelyi was not preceded by consultations with any member of the College, OK? That must be absolutely clear," said Eric Mamer, the Commission's chief spokesperson.

The executive said that, despite the backlash triggered by the PR fiasco, Várhelyi would not be officially reprimanded or have his access to social media restricted.

Some lawmakers have quite a different opinion.

A cross-party coalition of 73 MEPs coming from the socialist, liberal, green and left groups sent on Tuesday afternoon a letter to President von der Leyen denouncing Várhelyi's actions and asking for his immediate removal.

"Commissioner Várhelyi had no authority to unilaterally decide this (suspension), nor to officially communicate this on his social media accounts without this decision being taken with due process," they wrote.

To underline their displeasure, MEPs evoked the controversial episode in mid-February in which Várhelyi was heard asking "How many idiots are still left?" during a Q&A session with lawmakers about the Western Balkans. 

"We no longer condone the offenses of Mr Várhelyi to the EU's institutions and their democratic functioning. We therefore ask Commissioner Várhelyi to resign or for him to be relieved of his duties," the MEPs say in their letter.

"Dear President, the Commission needs to be exemplary in its democratic functioning. Commissioner Várhelyi's actions undermine not only the image of our institutions, but the trust that EU citizens put in the Commission."

Nathalie Loiseau, a prominent member of the Renaissance party who co-signed the missive, said that Várhelyi's social media posts had sowed confusion about the bloc's position "at the worst possible moment."

"For quite some time, we have had concerns about the way Commissioner Várhelyi understands his mission and his mandate," Loiseau told Euronews. "More often than not, I have the feeling that he’s doing the policy of the Hungarian Prime Minister (Viktor Orbán) rather than the policy of the European Union."

Her Irish colleague, Barry Andrews, said Várhelyi had "strayed way beyond" his legal competences and his standing in Brussels was "no longer tenable" because he had dragged "the EU's reputation through the mud."

"Anyone has to learn from her or his own mistakes. We all make mistakes. It's good that we speak it out. But I'm sorry, it was a bad move, it wasn't a good idea," said socialist MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, another signatory.

Notably, only one representative from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the parliament's largest formation, added her name to the text: Maria Walsh.

An EPP spokesperson dismissed the letter as an initiative "by a bunch of MEPs" and said work should instead focus on ensuring "no deviation of funds into the hands of the organisation responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Israeli civilians," referring to Hamas, which the EU and the US consider a terrorist organisation.


"This would be the best thing that the Commission should do to earn the trust of the European citizens," the spokesperson said in a statement.

Asked about the letter, which was sent ahead of an emergency meeting of EU leaders, the Commission insisted President von der Leyen had "confidence in the College and was focused on the serious situation on the ground."

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