On Monday, the European Union is likely to agree on a bold initiative that takes it into new territory - both literally and metaphorically. Foreign affairs ministers are scheduled to give their backing to a plan to help ease access to Gaza.

This is an exercise where member states are able to find unanimity. Meeting the immediate challenges of opening up the Gaza enclave is not only going to ease a pressing humanitarian and administrative need, but also offers the chance of easing decades-old tensions that are increasingly having their repercussions on security and stability around the world - and particularly in Europe.

In approving the concept for a European Security and Defence Policy operation, ministers will be launching the EU's first military mission in this acutely troubled area in its own neighbourhood. This will be simultaneously a powerful gesture of support, and a concrete reinforcement of the EU's oft-repeated claims to have role in international affairs.

The possibility of free movement is crucial to relaunching the economy of Gaza, and to maintaining the chances of viability for what could one day evolve into a state. Success might restore momentum towards broader strategic objectives - and notably towards revitalising the neglected international road map for a peaceful settlement.

It is a security mission, in which an EU deployment of troops will work alongside Palestinian border guards controling the movement of people into and out of the territory. But it is much more than a military mission. It will operate against a background of assiduous...

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