But there were no immediate details of how the restrictions will be implemented. Hezbollah does not actually organize itself into political and military wings, and critics of the decision said that in practical terms, Europe’s desire to maintain contact with politicians within the organization would limit the reach of Monday’s decision.
The E.U. declaration comes at a time when Hezbollah has significantly escalated its backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the sectarian civil war in that country and has increased its efforts to carry out attacks on Israelis and Iranian-chosen targets around the world, according to assessments by U.S. intelligence officials.
“It is good that the E.U. has decided to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organization,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans in a statement. The move will have the effect of “limiting its capacity to act,” he said.
But Iran-backed Hezbollah is also one of Lebanon’s most powerful political forces. Some European countries had previously resisted the terrorist designation, fearful that such an action by the E.U. would lessen Europe’s influence in Lebanon’s fragile political system. Hezbollah has dominated Lebanon’s parliament since 2011.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration welcomes the E.U. designation, which he said would have “a significant impact on Hezbollah’s ability to operate freely in Europe by enabling European law enforcement agencies to crack down on Hezbollah’s fundraising, logistical activity, and terrorist plotting on European soil.”
Europe, with its long history of immigration from and cultural ties to Lebanon, has been fertile ground for Hezbollah to do fundraising and outreach. France, bound by history and language to Lebanon, has a large Lebanese Shiite community. And Germany’s domestic intelligence agency estimated in 2011 that there were 950 Hezbollah supporters living within its borders.
Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon immediately condemned the move.
The E.U. decision is “hostile and unjust and not based on justification or evidence,” Hezbollah said in a statement late Monday on the Web site of al-Manar, its media wing. Hezbollah blamed the the United States for pushing Europe to act.
The country’s Hezbollah-backed caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that he hoped that the decision would be reconsidered after “a second careful read of the facts.”
The Hezbollah-aligned Tawhid Party said Europe’s decision was forced by American pressure.