The EU’s strategy and priorities on Syria

On April 3, 2017, the EU Foreign Ministers convened in Luxembourg and subsequently released a paper on the EU’s future strategy on Syria. In this paper, the EU first of all clarifies, that it holds the Syrian government and its allies, notably Russia, responsible for the protection of Syrian citizens, the cessation of violence and the facilitation of humanitarian aid. Moreover, the paper distictively condemns the continuity of violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law, especially naming the regime as responible. On the basis of these crimes, the EU deems the consideration of further restrictions conceivable, and declares “that there can be no lasting peace in Syria under the current regime” (Council of the EU: press release 03/04/2017).

This last statement is being interpreted in many different ways. While the majority perceives it as a clear plea for  Assad’s resignation and hence in opposition to the US administration’s position, others refer to more moderate statements made by individual Foreign Ministers, who expect and suggest Assad’s withdrawal – if at all – for a much later point of time. They argue for this assessment by pointing out that in the end the Syrian people has to decide about Assad’s future. Some deem the intention to solve this issue at the beginning inappropriate, “because this would only lead to everything getting stuck” (source: dpa), as German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said. Other participants of the meeting were more decidedly: The French Foreign Minister, Jean Marc Ayrault declared, he could not for a single moment imagine Assad to lead Syria henceforth, due to him being responsible „for more than 300.000 deaths, the imprisoned, the tortured, a destroyed country” (source: afp). With this, Ayrault remained true to his position, just as many other EU Foreign Ministers did.

The strategy papers priorities, however, do not revolve around an overthrow of Assad, but lie on the Syrian civil population’s needs and on the necessity of finding a political solution to the conflict. In that regard, the EU leaves no doubt about its support for the Geneva negotiation process, even though lately the UN have been frequently criticized due to its slow progress. According to the paper, the objective of all actors involved must be Syria’s transition. The EU strongly emphasizes the role the HNC has taken up in this respect and announces to further support it in developing a vision for Syria’s transition. A very positive reference is made to its recent endeavors to include civil society organizations. From the KNC’s point of view, however, one must criticize here that a large part of the Arabic opposition within the HNC so far refuses to discuss the Kurdish Question, and hence does not think and act in an inclusive way at all. For this reason, the Kurdish National Council has temporarily suspended its participation in the negotiations at the end of the last round of talks in Geneva.

Moreover, the strategy paper emphasizes that the EU wishes to be prepared for the post-war situation in Syria, unlike in earlier cases. Consequently, it already wants to strengthen inter alia the role of civil organizations and structures, support neighbouring countries, who are sheltering an enormous number of refugees, promote freedom of speech and press, and prepare the prosecution of war crimes. A reconsideration of the restrictions imposed on Syria and Syria’s reconstruction can only begin, though, when a political restructuring is perceptible and when the parties of conflict have come to an agreement according to the provisions of UN resolution 2254. In prospect of the upcoming donor conference in Brussels, the paper also points to the special responsibility of parties and states that have fed the Syrian conflict to finance the reconstruction of Syria.

Capacity Building: Kurdish National Council in Syria
Berlin, April 2017