French President Emmanuel Macron admitted Thursday that Europe was divided over the war between Israel and Hamas, as pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated against his stance during his state visit to Switzerland.
Despite the “position of unity” displayed by the European Union, “there are many differences on this subject between the countries,” Macron admitted, stressing that positions on the war were a matter of diplomacy and of domestic politics.
Macron was outlining his vision for Europe during a visit to the University of Lausanne, before debating with students.
Outside, around 200 pro-Palestinian demonstrators denounced his position on the war, chanting “Macron: complicit!” and brandishing banners reading “stop genocide” or “free Palestine”.
There were brief moments of tension with the police.
No flags or banners were allowed inside, where Macron reiterated his position, which has evoked criticism both within France and internationally.
“Israel’s right to defend itself does not justify bombing civilians or to have children, families killed in these bombardments,” he said.
“It cannot be total war, without rules.”
Macron urged an “immediate truce leading to a humanitarian ceasefire,” but admitted that “there is not a united position, to be honest, at the European level”.
Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas in retaliation for the attacks of October 7, which killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and saw about 240 people taken hostage, according to Israeli officials.
But with the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza saying the death toll from the offensive has now topped 11,500, including thousands of children, calls for a truce are mounting.
While the EU project has long been presented as a guarantor of peace in a continent previously ravaged by conflicts, “war is returning to our doorstep everywhere” — in Ukraine, in the Caucasus and in the Middle East, said Macron.
“Faced with all the risks — of being torn apart, of a return to nationalism — Europe is the answer,” he insisted, saying that returning to conflict and nationalism “would be a catastrophe”.
“And so we have, even more fundamentally than before the return of war on our soil, a need for unity,” he concluded.
Such unity, according to Macron, involves enlarging the EU beyond its current 27 members, but also bringing in other countries which do not wish to join, such as Switzerland, into broader association agreements.
Ties between Brussels and Bern have been strained since Switzerland suddenly decided in May 2021 to end years of discussion towards a broad cooperation agreement with the bloc.
But Macron has pleaded for accelerated talks on reaching a framework agreement during his two-day state visit.