Seven Years On, the EU Can’t Give Up Its Gaza Million-dollar Sleeping Beauty

The EU's Gaza Strip farce abides: EUBAM mission is on standby, but its funds are flowing.

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At the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip. September 19, 2013.Credit: Reuters

In the Sir Humphrey-esque world of European Union waste, the EUBAM mission in Gaza might just be the jewel in the crown.

Sir Humphrey, you may recall, took great pride in the perfect efficiency of a hospital that operated within budget and had no waiting-lists. Its only problem and the reason for its success: No patients.

But even the creators of the classic British TV comedy 'Yes, Minister' would have been hard-pressed to imagine a border monitoring mission that goes nowhere near the border and hasn’t monitored anything for seven of the nine years it has existed.

Each year, the EU pumps nearly a million euros into EUBAM Rafah, its eight remaining staff – four locals and four foreign officials – and two offices. It was established in 2005 to monitor the operations of the Rafah border crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, under a U.S.-brokered agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. At its height, it employed 81 staff from 16 different countries.

But the mission ceased to operate in June 2007, when Hamas seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup against the Palestinian Authority.

EUBAM still employs three Palestinian staff in Gaza, but EU monitors haven't been anywhere near the border crossing in seven years.

Instead, the mission "has remained on standby, awaiting a political solution and ready to re-engage at very short notice," according EU spokespeople.

In other words, they are doing nothing except spending nearly a million euros of EU taxpayers' cash each year on a project that ceased to perform any useful function seven years ago.

Despite their total lack of worthwhile activity, EUBAM has an office in Tel Aviv and another in Gaza, and employs four international staff plus four local employees. For two years after it ceased to function, EUBAM was headquartered in the Dan Gardens Hotel in Ashkelon until May 2009, where its head also resided. Since then, the mission and its staff have rented alternative accommodation in which to kick their heels.

In 2011, four years after all meaningful activity effectively ended, the mission still employed 13 EU staff and 10 locals.

In May 2012, EUBAM Rafah's "operational element” was relocated to Tel Aviv to “reduce costs,” no doubt because it’s a more convenient location for the work they do now.

“The main responsibility is to continue to monitor the situation at the Rafah border but also to continue liaising with the parties to the 2005 agreement and other regional actors,” says a spokesman.

I know it sounds like a part-time secretarial job, but in the bloated bureaucracy of the EU, you’ll need eight people spending a million euros a year to complete a task like that.

To date, the EUBAM mission has cost EU taxpayers more than 24 million euros.

In July 2013, Gerhard Schlaudraff, a senior German diplomat, was appointed as the new head of mission and the EU extended the EUBAM mandate for another year with a budget of 940,000 euros.

To be fair, some of the original supporters of the mission have seen sense and withdrawn their funding. Austria and Luxembourg pulled out in 2007.

EU officials and even British government ministers have dug in their heels against critics who have called for the farce to end.

In September 2013, the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee committee in London heard that David Lidington, UK Minister for Europe, "strongly supported" extending the EUBAM mandate but admitted that he was "concerned over what EUBAM Rafah can offer."

Lidington said a strategic review in early 2014 should decide whether to finally shut down the operation.

"If EUBAM Rafah has not been activated by this stage, we expect the review to consider options for closure or reactivation," he told MPs.

But that’s unlikely to happen.

The EUBAM mandate is up for renewal on June 30. A spokesman tells Haaretz that one of the mission’s remaining contributors has already indicated they will continue to support the mission.

Meanwhile, EU officials have proudly described EUBAM as "a sleeping beauty... most successful."

Sir Humphrey himself could not have put it better.