The EU has been considering whether to place Hezbollah on its list of designated terror organizations. Hezbollah is a Shiite group based in Lebanon known for its close ties to Iran. There has been mounting pressure to blacklist Hezbollah in recent months, especially from Israel and the Netherlands. In July 2012, the EU turned down an Israeli government request to blacklist Hezbollah as a terror group after a deadly bombing in Bulgaria in which five Israelis and their Bulgarian driver were killed. In September 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again lobbied for the EU to add Hezbollah to the terror list. In addition to the Bulgarian bombing, Israel claims that Iran and Hezbollah have plotted to carry out more than 20 attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets over the past two years. However, Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, rejected the Israeli government’s request. Kozakou-Marcoullis noted, “There is no consensus for putting Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organisations” and added that there is “no tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism.”

The Hezbollah blacklisting debate has long been a divisive issue within the EU. The United States, which has listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization since 1995, has pushed the EU to make the change. In 2005, the George W. Bush administration encouraged the EU to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization to no avail. In September 2012, the United States Senate sent a letter to the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy urging the organization to make the change. However, a number of countries, mainly led by France, have opposed the measure. Supporters of the Hezbollah listing change claim that France does not want to lose its diplomatic influence in Lebanon. In addition, supporters of the listing change allege that the “Iran-sponsored group continues to have wide political and organizational latitude across Europe to advance its ideology and increase its operational potency.”

The core problem involved in the EU’s decision whether to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is distinguishing between the group’s military and political wings. In defending her rejection of the Israeli government request, Kozakou-Marcoullis noted that Hezbollah comprises of a political wing which provides social services and an armed wing. Interestingly, this distinction between the political and military wings of Hezbollah is not recognized by the United States, most Western governments, or even Hezbollah itself.  However, Hezbollah does provide social services and has evolved since its founding in 1982 into a political force with two cabinet ministers and a dozen seats in the Lebanese Parliament.

Dr. Toby Greene explains the importance of EU action: “It is time to fix this anomaly and impose an EU-wide proscription on Hezbollah in its entirety. This brutal organisation, a proxy for Iran, and neck deep in terror, organised crime and repression, should not be able to maintain assets or raise money in the European Union.” In addition, supporters of the change believe that the EU’s inaction signals a mixed message about the resolve to confront terrorism. However, there are certainly several noteworthy reasons that the EU should not blacklist Hezbollah: (1) the move could financially drain Hezbollah’s social services; (2) the measure could further inflame the Arab world where Hezbollah is generally viewed in a positive light, especially after the fallout created by the anti-Islamic video; (3) the inflammation of the Arab world could lead to possible attacks within Europe; (4) the measure arguably only serves United States and Israeli interests; and (5) some EU member states have already designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and it should remain a choice for each member state.