The war in Syria, one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has faced since World War II, continues to have devastating and tragic consequences for its people. It is also having an increasingly destabilising impact on the wider region, through the displacement of people, the spread of terrorism, the exacerbation of political and sectarian differences.
The European Union believes there can be no military solution to the conflict, and the elimination of Da'esh and other UN-listed terrorist entities in Syria requires a political solution to the conflict in Syria. Therefore, the EU's strategic objectives in Syria are focused on six key areas:
(a) an end to the war through a genuine political transition, in line with UNSCR 2254, negotiated by the parties to the conflict under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy for Syria and with the support of key international and regional actors,
(b) promote a meaningful and inclusive transition in Syria, in line with UN Security Council resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué, through support for the strengthening of the political opposition,
(c) save lives, by addressing the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable Syrians across the country in a timely, effective, efficient and principled manner,
(d) promote democracy, human rights and freedom of speech by strengthening Syrian civil society organisations,
(e) promote accountability for war crimes with a view to facilitating a national reconciliation process and transitional justice,
(f) support the resilience of Syria’s population and society.
These objectives were endorsed by the Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions of 3 April 2017 that, together with the Joint Communication by the then High Representative and the Commission of 14 March 2017, form the EU Strategy for Syria. It was further reinforced by Foreign Affairs Council conclusions of 16 April 2018.
Since 2017, the European Union has been organising the Brussels Conferences on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”. They are co-chaired with the United Nations. The overarching objective of the Brussels Conferences is to support the Syrian people and mobilise the international community in support of a lasting political solution to the Syria crisis, in line with UN Security Council resolution 2254. All editions of the Brussels Conferences have addressed the most critical humanitarian and resilience issues affecting Syrians and communities hosting Syrian refugees, both inside the country and in the region. They also renew the international community’s political and financial support for Syria’s neighbours, notably Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, as well as Egypt and Iraq.
Since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011, the EU and its Member States have mobilised over €24 billion to help those affected by the Syrian war. This makes the EU collectively the largest provider of international aid in response to the Syria crisis, delivering humanitarian, stabilisation and resilience assistance inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.
The Conferences have also grown over the years to provide an interactive platform for dialogue with civil society and NGOs from inside Syria and elsewhere in the region. This dimension has developed over the years, with dedicated online consultations and Days of Dialogue allowing for direct exchange between civil society representatives and decision-makers from refugee-hosting and donor countries and from the UN. Rapporteurs from civil society present conclusions from the Days of Dialogue directly to Ministers on the day of the Conference. Women and youth, and organisations representing them, are also systematically given prominence. This approach reflects the strong belief by the EU and the donor community that Syria’s civil society, with its considerable diversity of opinions and approaches, has a key role to play to build a more inclusive future for Syria.
The EU has called for an end to the unacceptable violence in Syria, which continues to cause the suffering of millions of Syrians and immeasurable destruction of infrastructure. Attacks on cultural heritage are also an unfortunate consequence of the conflict. The EU continues to condemn in the strongest terms the continuing violence and the widespread and systematic violations of human rights.
The EU has been at the forefront of the work done to put Syrian chemical weapons) under international control, to eventually lead to their destruction. In March 2016, the EU provided funding of 4.6 million euros to the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) special missions in the Syrian Arab Republic, including activities related to the OPCW Fact Finding Mission and the Joint Investigative Mechanism (UNSCR 2235).
The European Union responded decisively to the violent repression of anti-government protests in Syria which began in March 2011, by suspending its cooperation with the Syrian Government under the European Neighbourhood Policy and gradually extending targeted sanctions . The sanctions currently in place primarily target actors involved in the violent repression against Syria’s civilian population: as of June 2020, 273 persons are targeted by both an assets freeze and a travel ban and 70 entities are subject to an assets freeze. The sanctions also provide for an oil embargo, restrictions on certain investments, a freeze of the assets of the Syrian central bank within the EU, export restrictions on equipment and technology that might be used for internal repression, as well as on equipment and technology for monitoring or interception of internet or telephone communications.
Regular trade and export of food, medicines or medical equipment are not subject to EU sanctions. Specific humanitarian exceptions are built into EU sanctions, including for dangerous goods such as chemical products that are also used for medical purposes. The EU will continue its policy of imposing additional sanctions targeting the regime and its supporters as long as the repression continues. In May 2020, the Council extended EU sanctions in view of the situation in Syria until 1 June 2021.
The expatriate staff of the EU Delegation to Syria continues to operate from Beirut, carrying out regular missions to Damascus.
Factsheet - The EU and the Syria crisis 2020