On January 1, 2022, France assumed the six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union. Europe is taking its role seriously.
While France remains focused on leading the EU and the upcoming presidential elections in April, the Israeli government is working hard to improve Israel’s relations with both the EU and France.
But after months of encouraging statements and meetings, Israel has not been able to resume the major prize – the annual Association Council meetings with the European Union. At the same time, EU ministers have remained openly critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with French President Emanuel Macron in Paris on November 30, 2021. He and Macron had a warm personal relationship before he and Macron were in their current position.
Lapid took the unusual step of supporting Macron in the 2017 presidential election. Macron returned the favour in April 2019 by hosting him at the Elysee Palace in Paris, just four days before the election in Israel.
French ambassador to Israel Eric Dannon told French lawmakers last July that Macron intends to re-establish ties with Israel if he is re-elected in 2022.
Lapid has also called for a “fresh start” with the EU after former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aligned Israel with the pro-Israeli Central European bloc named the Visegrad Groups.
Lapid conveyed his counterparts at the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels in July, where there was support for reinstating the Association Council or commission.
Israel signed an association agreement in 1995 that defined its correlation with the European Union and ratified it in 2000. It stipulates that the two parties shall meet once a year in an association council to discuss matters of mutual concern. The last time the two sides met was in 2012 when current Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman was foreign minister.
Israel repealed the council in 2013, when the EU angered Israel by issuing new rules, according to which any Israeli body that operates or has links beyond the Green Line cannot receive EU funding, may or may not cooperate with the European bloc.
In later years, it was the European side that prevented the meetings from taking place. The European Union was not the body that held councils for years, but instead individual states, notably France.
France and most EU countries have expressed openness to re-establishing the meetings.