The European Union’s top court ruled on Wednesday that Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas should remain on the EU terrorism blacklist, referring the case back to a lower court.
Judges at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) overruled the General Court’s view of 2014 that the 28-nation bloc had insufficient evidence to maintain asset freezes and travel bans on Hamas.
That court found that the listing was based on media and Internet reports rather than solid legal arguments. However, the ECJ said on Wednesday that a decision by a competent authority was only required for an initial listing, with no such condition for subsequent retention.
The listing is important because it keeps various Hamas funds frozen, limits Hamas from openly doing business in the EU and limits the mobility of Hamas-affiliated persons.
In September 2016, the advocate-general of the European Court of Justice, whose advice is usually followed by the judges, recommended that the court uphold the lower court ruling and remove Hamas from being listed as a terrorist group.
Both decisions received rebukes from Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasting the lower EU court ruling as “staggering” and “hypocrisy,” while the Foreign Ministry had said it expected the EU to fix the situation.
In the 2016 recommendation, Advocate-General Eleanor Sharpston said that the EU governments should independently present evidence on attacks perpetrated by the groups, and that information from outside countries such as the US was not sufficient.
“The council cannot rely on facts and evidence found in press articles and information from the Internet,” The Wall Street Journal quoted Sharpston as saying.
Sharpston’s comments reflected the 2014 order by the lower court to strike Hamas and the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka from the EU’s list of designated terrorist organizations.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini issued a statement soon after the 2014 decision saying that the decision by the court taking Hamas off the terrorist list and freeing up its frozen funds in Europe “was clearly based on procedural grounds and did not imply any assessment by the court of the merits of designating Hamas as a terrorist organization.”
EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen as well as top Israeli officials had expected the European Court of Justice to uphold the lower court ruling after the EU’s Advocate-General had recommended delisting Hamas.
Faaborg-Andersen said that, “the EU welcomes” the decision which meant there “would be no need to take further action.”
In fact, the 2014 decision had not gotten Hamas off the terror list since the ruling was on appeal and because the EU changed its standards for listing groups on the list.
Hamas has already filed a new case against the EU listing it as a terror group for the years 2015-2017 and Faaborg-Andersen said “we will see if the pending litigation by Hamas challenging the 2015-2017 listing will go forward or not.”
Next, he said that a variety of other countries were watching the European Court of Justice decision as a litmus test, another reason the EU welcomed the ruling.
Even if the court had ruled against the EU position, he would have viewed it as a technical issue only.
He said that the EU would have continued to redefine its own guidelines “until there is agreement between the EU Council and the court about what is sufficient documentation,” to be on the terror list.
Likewise, a senior foreign ministry official said leading into the decision, “we have strong indications that the EU and its member states are committed to continuing to list Hamas as a terror group.”
The source said Israel had received indications both from Brussels and major EU capitals.