SOFIA, Bulgaria — Since the Lebanese political movement Hezbollah's inception in 1982, the group's relations with the European Union have been characterized by a fragmented policy filled with complex diplomatic maneuvers. The latest move in this elaborate tango was Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov's announcement on Tuesday that two Hezbollah operatives murdered a Bulgarian national and five Israeli tourists on EU territory in July 2012.
To the shock of many observers and journalists in the presidential building in central Sofia, Tsvetanov declared, "We have established that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah," adding for good measure that there is "data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects."
Prior to this announcement, there was high-intensity chatter on both sides of the Atlantic that the Bulgarian government would capitulate to French and German pressure and not designate Hezbollah as the agent behind the July bombing in the Black Sea resort of Burgas. Philipp Missfelder, a top German deputy in the Bundestag and foreign-policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, coyly told the New York Times on Monday that "some German officials dropped a few words" to persuade the Bulgarians.
The popular British conservative news and opinion website the Commentator published a report hours prior to Tsvetanov's statement noting that Sofia would probably decline "to name the terrorist group Hezbollah in its report on the 2012 bus bombing" and instead invoke suggested German-French phrasing along the lines of "all roads lead to Lebanon."
There was ample reason to believe Sofia would punt. While the U.S., Canadian, and Israeli governments for months have been urging the EU to clamp down on Hezbollah's activities -- including raising funds, recruiting, and procuring dual-use technologies -- within its 27-member union, the Europeans have consistently pushed back, and the issue has failed to gain traction.
The reaction of Catherine Ashton, the EU's top diplomat, typified Europe's divided approach toward the powerful Lebanese Shiite group. Responding to the Bulgarian investigation's results, Ashton said on Tuesday that there is now a "need for reflection" on the outcome of the investigation into Burgas. Notably lacking was the lack of any direct reference to Hezbollah.
Her American counterpart, newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry, was considerably more blunt. "We strongly urge other governments around the world -- and particularly our partners in Europe -- to take immediate action to crack down" on Hezbollah, said Kerry. "We need to send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group that it can no longer engage in despicable actions with impunity."
Although it doesn't consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization, Europe is aware of the group's lethal violence. The European Parliament issued a strongly worded, anti-Hezbollah non-binding resolution in 2005. After Hezbollah allegedly assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Brussels stated that "clear evidence exists of terrorist activities on the part of Hezbollah. The [EU] Council should take all necessary steps to curtail them."