US-led strikes against the Houthis in Yemen have highlighted the EU’s muddled response to the Red Sea crisis as the bloc’s diplomats meet on Tuesday in Brussels to discuss a mission to protect international shipping in the region.
“There is clearly a need for some sort of protection of international shipping in the Red Sea,” an EU diplomat told media.
Discussions about the shape of this mission are expected to continue for the coming weeks, with a possible approval next month.
The EU response to the conflict in Gaza has so far been weakened by internal divisions.
They have persisted as the conflict expands to the Red Sea after the Houthis’ announcement that they would attack what they claim are Israel-linked commercial ships to try to pressure Israel into a ceasefire in Gaza.
This has caused ocean freight rates to climb as many ships choose a longer route around South Africa.
In response to close to 30 Houthi attacks since November, the US launched a naval mission to the Red Sea named Prosperity Guardian.
The coalition of more than 20 countries aims to deter such attacks by intercepting drones and escorting commercial ships.
But some EU countries such as Spain said they would not join the mission, despite the US publicly listing them as taking part last month.
“The EU could decide … in a few days’ time that there should be a mission,” Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles said on Friday.
“We do not yet know the scope if that mission is approved, but in the meantime Spain’s position out of a sense of responsibility and commitment to peace is not to intervene in the Red Sea.”
Other EU countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands have proved stronger backers of the US response in the region.