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EU leaders press for a political, rather than military solution to Israel-Hamas war

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Voters across the European Union pick their representatives in the European Parliament next month. And they have a lot to consider. Europe faces the war in Ukraine, the war in Gaza and a complicated relationship with China. So Leila Fadel called up the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.

JOSEP BORRELL: This is the most challenging moment for Europe in years because, first, we had Russia attack against Ukraine that brought the war in our borders and make us to engage in supporting Ukraine in a war that is lasting for more than two years. And then came the Hamas terrorist attack against Israel, and then seven months of bombing Gaza with this humanitarian catastrophe. And certainly, we are very much worried by the consequences, both from the Palestinian people, both for the Israeli people, both for the region as a whole.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

You know, the war in Gaza is taking center stage, overshadowing, in some ways, the war in Ukraine. And you've said Europe needs to take a more robust role with Arab allies to find a solution because, as you put it, you've seen U.S., quote, "fatigue" in finding a solution. Europe isn't unified on the issue. What does the EU's role need to be in this moment?

BORRELL: Well, we have been very much united in front of Russia in the Ukrainian war. We are not so much united in the case of the Palestine and Israel conflict. But in one thing we agree, all of us, which is that a political solution is needed, and this political solution can only be found on the two state. But on that, the European Union is wholly behind it.

FADEL: The two-state solution is something that's been proposed for decades. It's...

BORRELL: Yes.

FADEL: ...Right now, a one-state reality. I mean, how does it end? And what is Europe's role in this moment if the U.S. is not playing the role that you think is really bringing an end to it?

BORRELL: Look, for example, I've been invited the five most important Arab states to come next Monday to the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union and to sit together with the 27 member states. This meeting on the next Foreign Affairs Council could be the first step on a process of discussion with the most important players in the region. It has to look for engagement with all relevant actors in the region - destroying Hamas, fine. But what does mean to destroy Hamas? You will not solve the problem just by military means, and this is what had to be told to the actors.

FADEL: I do want to ask about the unity of Europe in this moment. I mean, the elections are coming. You're dealing with some of the most difficult challenges of our time - the war in Ukraine - which, as you said, has shown the united response from Europe as Russia's advancing. But has it also shown the limits of Europe's foreign policy reach and its ability to stave off these types of dangers in this moment?

BORRELL: That's true, because the European Union is not state. We are not even a federation. And the foreign policy and defense and security policy remains a national competence. We try to build a common foreign and security policy, a common defense policy. Sometimes, it doesn't happen, like it is the case of Gaza. We have different approaches - prevent European Union from having a common position.

The European Union is facing at least three problems, big problems - first, a geopolitical one, which is the role of Europe in the world. We have a geopolitical order, which is much more challenging than in the past. Second, we have an economic and technological problem - competitivity, our competition, China, U.S. We don't want to be squeezed between China, U.S. on this new trade war, and we don't want to be the collateral victim of the competition between these two big players. And the third one is political, the health of our political system - the competition between autocracies and democracies. There are populist forces.

The next European Union election will be the great moment for the Europeans to choose. There are a lot of fears about the growth of the far-right and the populist movement. Let's give the floor and the voice democratically to the European citizens. But these are the three dimensions of the problems that we are facing today.

FADEL: Josep Borrell is the EU's high representative for foreign affairs. Thank you for your time, sir.

BORRELL: Thank you. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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