The European Union has responded decisively to the violent repression of anti-government protests in Syria, which began in March 2011. The EU called for an end to the deteriorating situation in Syria and the unacceptable levels of violence, which continue to cause suffering to millions of Syrians and destruction of infrastructure and cultural heritage.
The legal basis for relations between the EU and Syria is the Cooperation Agreement signed in 1977. Prior to the conflict the EU had sought to develop a closer relationship with Syria, which would have provided for political dialogue, mutually beneficial trade and investment relations, and cooperation on economic, social and democratic reform. In late 2008, the European Commission and Syria updated a 2004 draft EU-Syria Association Agreement to take into account the reform of the Syrian customs tariff and EU enlargement. They initialled the revised version of the agreement in December 2008, but it was never signed. Priorities of EU co-operation with Syria were defined in the Country Strategy Paper and National Indicative Programme.
In May 2011, the EU froze the draft Association Agreement and suspended bilateral cooperation programmes between the EU and the Syrian government under the European Neighbourhood Policy. The participation of Syrian authorities in EU's regional programmes and the loan operations and technical assistance by the European Investment Bank to Syria were also suspended. The EU has established and progressively expanded a policy of targeted restrictive measures (see annex for an overview on sanctions). In response, Syria suspended its membership of and participation in the Union for the Mediterranean. The EU Delegation to Syria remained open until December 2012 when scaling down for security reasons became inevitable.
In response to the conflict in Syria and its consequences both in Syria and in neighbouring countries, a communication mapping out a comprehensive EU approach to the Syrian crisis was adopted in June 2013.
The EU has repeatedly called for the urgent need for a political solution of the conflict and will continue to work with all interested parties, specifically with the United Nations, the League of Arab States, regional and international partners. The EU is committed to fully support the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura's efforts to achieve a strategic de-escalation of violence as a basis for a broader sustainable political process. The EU recalls that the overall objective remains a Syrian-led process leading to a transition that meets the aspirations of all the Syrian people, based on the Geneva communique of 30 June 2012 and in line with relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
The EU has also expressed its concerns with regards to the involvement of extremist and foreign non-state actors in the fighting in Syria, which is further fuelling the conflict and posing a threat to regional stability; the Syria and Iraq : Counter Terrorism/Foreign Fighters Strategy had been endorsed at the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting of 20 October 2014 which also tasked the EU High Representative/vice President to "develop an EU comprehensive regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the ISIL/Da'esh threat". The EU supports efforts by more than sixty States to tackle the threat from ISIL/Da'esh, including military action in accordance with international law.
The EU continues to condemn in the strongest terms the continuing violence and the widespread and systematic violations of human rights in Syria. The EU is a vocal promoter of accountability. Those responsible for the numerous grave violations of human rights and the murder of thousands of civilians need to be held to account. The EU has been supporting the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria and other specific efforts aimed at documenting crimes committed during the conflict for the purpose of subsequent accountability (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights).
The EU has been at the forefront of supporting the proposals for putting the Syrian chemical weapons under international control, leading to their eventual destruction. Following a United Nations Security Council Resolution, the EU responded to the appeals for support from OPCW (provided close to €5 million for armoured cars and technical assistance and €12 million to the OPCW Special Trust Fund for the destruction phase). OPCW/UN Joint Mission was formally closed on 30 September 2014; the EU maintains pressure on Syria to ensure that the chemical weapons programme is completely and irreversibly dismantled.
The EU remains deeply concerned by the regional effects of the conflict on neighbouring countries and supports their efforts to contain it, as reiterated in the Berlin Communiqué of the international Syrian refugee conference in October 2014. The EU calls for the respect of International HumanitarianLaw and the protection of civilians and safety of humanitarian personnel. The EU with its Member States as the largest donor has so far mobilised more than €3 billion in development and humanitarian aid since the start of the conflict. Besides the European Neighbourhood Instrument, funds have been mobilised also through the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace.
Further detailed information:
Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on Syria of 15 December 2014
ANNEX - RESTRICTIVE MEASURES ON SYRIA
– in force as on 14 December 2014 –
The restrictive measures on Syria consist in:
For more information, see legislation instituting these restrictive measures and Frequently Asked Questions on EU restrictive measures .