With the spread of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe – according to a survey by the Anti-Defamation League, there have been more than 1,264 since the start of the war between Hamas and Israel – protection and political support for the Jewish community are an absolute priority for the European Union government.
“The security of the Jewish community in Europe is not just another problem, it is ‘the’ problem. “We are determined to support our Jewish citizens in every way,” he told Sheet the Greek Margaritis Schinas, vice-president of the European Commission, who was in Brazil to meet with businesspeople and authorities.
Combating anti-Semitism is part of his duties as vice-president of the EU. There has been an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the bloc. How are you dealing with this?
Two years ago, I presented the EU’s first strategy to combat anti-Semitism and promote Jewish life in Europe. What we present has become an absolute priority. The security of the Jewish community in Europe is not just another problem, it is “the” problem, it is something we take very seriously. The Holocaust was the darkest page in European history, so we are determined now to support our Jewish citizens in every way. They are part of our European way of life, and we will do everything possible to make them feel safe.
Are you taking special measures because of the rise in anti-Semitism?
We are strengthening the level of protection for Jewish places of worship and schools. We are increasing funding to have more layers of protection. And we want to ensure that, politically, we are supporting Jewish communities in very visible ways, so that they don’t feel alone. I visited the Jewish communities in Strasbourg [França] in recent weeks. I was in Antwerp [Bélgica]and here in São Paulo, I was at the Jewish Museum.
Like mr. react to criticism that the EU is not doing enough to try to stop attacks on civilians in Gaza?
The European Union is a force for good in the Middle East. We condemn, of course, the Hamas terrorist attack and call for Israel’s response to be in accordance with international law. We are cooperating with other countries to free hostages [do Hamas], many of whom have dual European and Israeli nationality, and we are the world champions of humanitarian aid for the Palestinians. Even before that, we were the only ones who supported the Palestinians, so I don’t accept moral lectures. Europe has something significant to offer, we are part of the solution, not the problem.
Are you negotiating with Hamas for the release of these hostages?
Well, you know when it comes to these issues, it’s better to do and not say what we do. But we are working with the Americans, with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to try to facilitate [a libertação].
There was criticism of Germany and France’s decision to ban pro-Palestinian demonstrations. For some, this is a violation of freedom of expression. How do you see this?
All these situations are specific to each country and at each moment and are not Brussels’ competence. The security and operational aspects of security and the judiciary are beyond our reach.
You participated in the Cairo Summit to discuss the war between Hamas and Israel. How do you view the ceasefire proposals in Gaza?
The Cairo conference was much more important because it took place at the time it did, and with the participants it brought together, instead of valuing a communiqué, which I consider secondary [a conferência terminou sem os participantes conseguirem concordar com uma declaração final]. The fact that we were there, Europeans, Americans, high-level Arab leaders, was a true confirmation that there is room to detoxify the management of this crisis. Secondly, it was a gesture to President Sisi [ditador do Egito, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi], because Egypt is a key country, a fundamental actor. And I was very encouraged by the fact that the European Union had very significant contributions to make, but also by the Arab leaders who participated, who did not contribute to increasing tensions. There was a clear feeling that we needed to detente.
But Israel was not present…
Yes, Israel was not present, and Iran was not present either. But I don’t think many would have accepted Israel going to Cairo to negotiate. It is very important that the Westerners and the Arabs asked for and, to some extent, achieved the release of hostages. The first releases took place hours after the Cairo meeting, the first humanitarian aid trucks entered Gaza after the Cairo meeting, and the feeling of “de-escalation” prevailed.
Are threats within the European Union linked to the conflict in the Middle East a concern?
Yes, definitely. We discussed this with the home affairs ministers of our Member States. The biggest concern is the risk of lone wolves, the so-called atmospheric jihadists. It is not organized groups that enter Europe equipped with an arsenal and plans for a massive attack, but rather a lone wolf that is in Europe and is influenced by a family breakdown, emotional breakdown, education problems or unemployment. Somehow, they channel their frustration into this atmospheric jihad, which is inspired by events. This is a risk that we take very seriously. But we also want to ensure that in Europe we live in a society where we protect our Jewish communities, but at the same time we do not allow a widespread climate of Islamophobia.
Has there been a significant increase in Islamophobia in Europe?
Yes, especially on the internet. We are experiencing a lot of Islamophobic and anti-Semitic sentiment online. This is the new terrain where this is felt, especially in Europe, but I hope we are better prepared now to deal with this than we were during the pandemic, because of the Digital Services Act [DSA, regulação de internet que acaba de entrar em vigor no bloco e aumenta a responsabilidade das plataformas por discurso de ódio].
Europe now has a layer of regulatory protection where platforms are more accountable. This is a time when we are counting on their cooperation, they cannot make mistakes and they know it. We also have another applicable law that prohibits terrorist content online, which must be removed within one hour of being detected or reported. Even though we have a very high level of security threat, at the same time, this is the first time that we have tools in our hands to deal with it, tools that we have collectively created and are using.
You recently said that the EU is closer than ever to solving the migration problem. But there is little time, because next year the EU will have elections and new governments could make the approval of an agreement very complicated. Like mr. see this issue?
We tried to work at the same time as architects of this new system, the new pact for asylum migration, but we were also forced to work as firefighters, running from crisis to crisis. We will never be successful as firefighters unless we are successful as architects. And the fire station we are building is closer than ever to being adopted. It is a house with three floors: the first is the relationship with the countries of origin and transit. Partnership agreements with these countries so they can help us manage [o fluxo de migrantes e refugiados].
The second floor is border management and security measures. We need to protect the European Union’s external border collectively, and we need uniform procedures. And the third floor is solidarity and sharing the burden, so that we share among the 27 [países-membros da UE] the obligations arising from our pact.
There are still disagreements, but the most important step has been taken, which is to have common positions. I hope that when Europeans go to vote in June, they vote knowing that Europe has resolved its migration issue. Otherwise, once again, demagogues and populists will attack Europe as an incompetent or powerless entity.
What is the main objective of your trip to Latin America?
The objective of this visit, following the guidance of President Ursula Von der Leyen, is to reaffirm the ties and depth of our partnership with Latin America. Sometimes geography and the fact that we are now facing war gives the impression that we are turning our backs on the region. We are not, we are shoulder to shoulder and that is what I want to convey.
Furthermore, the broader objective is to talk about two crucial themes for the EU that are particularly relevant to Latin America: European policies on border protection, public health security and migration, and also the opportunities offered by Europe in education and culture.
The EU-Mercosur agreement is one of the main topics on the bilateral relations agenda. I know it is not part of your portfolio, but do you believe that the agreement can finally come out of the paper?
To everyone I met here, Governor Tarcísio de Freitas, students at Unesp, at Fiesp, I said that the promulgation of the trade agreement would be a watershed, it would be an impulse that would take our commercial cooperation to unthinkable levels. I felt that everyone shared this vision, there was no point in waiting any longer. And I don’t think any obstacle will be big enough to stop the deal.
X-ray | Margaritis Schinas, 61
Born in Thessaloniki, Greece, he has held several important political positions in the European Union. Previously, he was a member of different Greek governments and an MEP in the European Parliament. Since 2019, he has been vice-president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, led by Ursula von der Leyen.