Check against delivery!
Ten days ago, we have seen – yet again – the use of chemical weapons in Syria, in the outskirts of Damascus this time. We have said it very clearly, time and again: even when the war in Syria disappears from the headlines, we always have to remember that the war in Syria is not over yet. In particular, the use of chemical weapons is a pattern we have seen developing over the years from the regime's side; we believe that is completely unacceptable for the entire international community, but for sure for the Europeans.
Our response, as the European Union, was very clear, united and immediate. The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable to us, and those responsible must be held accountable. Accountability is a key element, also to build a new future for Syria – as I think President [of the French Republic, Emmanuel] Macron mentioned very rightly this morning in this hemicycle.
We have always worked, as the European Union, in all different contexts that we could and we continue to do so, to re-establish an independent mechanism to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Today we work to allow the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] to investigate and report on the most recent attack.
You have all followed the targeted strikes carried out by France, the United States and the United Kingdom on chemical facilities in Syria with one objective: to prevent the regime from using chemical weapons again. You will also have seen the reactions, including the declaration I issued a few hours later on behalf of the 28 Member States, and the Council Conclusions we adopted yesterday, that cover not only the issue of the use of chemical weapons, but also more generally our common position on the conflict in Syria.
The main point here is this: now more than ever, it is clear that the only sustainable, the only pragmatic, the only possible solution to the war in Syria is a political solution. After seven years, there should be – I would say there is - no doubt about this. We have no doubt about this: there is no military solution to the war; the only way to end this conflict is through the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, between the Syrian parties, under the leadership of the United Nations.
Now more than ever it is the time to invest all our work, all our convening power, all our political capital to push the Syrian parties towards the negotiating table, and finally start meaningful negotiations. Not just 'talks for talks', but meaningful negotiations.
This was the message I delivered just the day before yesterday in Saudi Arabia, where I had the honour to open the Annual Summit of the League of Arab States, and where I also had the opportunity to meet the UN [Special] Envoy [for Syria], Staffan de Mistura, with whom we spoke at length about the current situation and how to relaunch the political process. I also had the chance to meet all the leaders from the region there and to share not only the analysis but also the need for a renewed regional effort, regional work to try and put an end to the war in Syria through a political process.
Next week, in exactly one week from now, all the relevant international and regional players will gather for the second Brussels Conference on Supporting the future of Syria and the region, that I will have the honour and the responsibility to chair together with the United Nations.
The Brussels Conference was planned long ago. We had a ministerial preparatory meeting already in September in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. It will obviously be even more relevant today in the current circumstances because it is the first huge international event that gathers different players that are on different sides in this war and the EU-UN co-chairmanship is an excellent opportunity to try and build a path towards a political solution.
We will make full use of the Conference exactly to do this: to shift the focus now to diplomacy and peace-making.
With no meaningful UN-led political talks, it is only a matter of time before the next military escalation comes. The risk of splitting the country in to zones of influence is increasing by the day. The Geneva talks represent the only path that can lead towards a peaceful, united, independent and truly democratic Syria, in all its diversity.
At the Brussels Conference we will have over eighty delegations around the table – as I said, having very different positions among themselves. I see this as an opportunity to collectively, consistently commit to stop the violence and to support the Geneva process.
We want to bring together – it is not easy, but not impossible - those who have leverage not just on the Syrian parties as we always mention - also because on the Syrian opposition we have the leverage ourselves and we have been working with them and continue to work with them day by day - but mainly those who have leverage on the Syrian regime that so far has not seriously committed to the political talks in Geneva, has not entered into the mechanism and the dynamic of negotiations - to work together, those who have leverage, towards new and meaningful intra-Syrian talks under the UN auspices.
I am also proud of one thing that I believe this Parliament will understand very well. We will host at the Conference hundreds of delegates from Syrian civil society groups – Syrians, women and men coming from inside Syria, most of them. I know that some may think that this is a marginal issue, that it is even something nice to say, something naïve as the war is going on, a sort of distraction. But these are the real people on the ground who are experiencing the suffering of the war, and these are also what I would call the Syrian “everyday heroes” that are incredibly precious for the country and its future. Because Syria would not see an end to its conflict and it would not be reconstructed, in the sense of building the future of a democratic Syria, if the international community, starting from the European Union, does not invest in those Syrians that want to build a democratic, peaceful and united country.
Because the future of Syria – this is a minor detail that the international community sometimes tends to forget – lies and has to lie only in the hands of the Syrian people and no-one else. It is not a chessboard. It is a country with people and citizens. And we want to bring the voices, the faces, the hopes, the dreams, but also the ideas and aspirations of the Syrian people on the stage. That is democracy; that is the way we intend it.
So it will be - it will have to be - up to them to decide on the new institutions of their country, to make them inclusive and democratic and, at the end of the day, to make sure that every Syrian man and woman, every Syrian child, beyond ethnicity, faith, political or social background, everyone will have the right to feel protected, safe, welcomed and at home in the Syria of the future.
Many people ask about preconditions: Who has to step back or come forth? Step in or out? The real answer, out of pragmatism, from our side is this: We need a political process that guarantees that every single Syrian inside the country and those that are today outside of the country can feel at home in the Syria of the future. This is it and that is what the political process in Geneva should guarantee.
What we can do, as Europe, as the international community, is to invest all our resources to move from a context of never-ending escalations on the ground – that is repeating itself in cycles - to one of true political negotiations. This is not easy, otherwise it would have been successful long ago. But in Brussels next week we will work on this: on renewing our essential and vital humanitarian pledges; on the resilience of the Syrian people; but also on the only way to make our humanitarian work sustainable, which is to unlock the Geneva talks.
This is what we are working on every single day with the United Nations and this is what we will try to deliver in Brussels next week.
Link to the opening remarks: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I153913