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European Union External Action

Syria and the EU

In 2011, the EU responded to the unacceptable violence used by the military and security forces against peaceful protestors against the government in Syria. The EU suspended its cooperation with the Syrian Government under the European Neighbourhood Policy and gradually extended restrictive measures to pressurise the Syrian Government into ending violence, and to encourage a political solution to the conflict.  From the very outset, the EU has condemned human rights violations in Syria in the strongest terms.

Our objective is to bring an end to the conflict and enable the Syrian people to live in peace in their own country. The latest EU position is stated in the Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions of 23 May 2016.

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.

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 the Syrian population and Syrian society.

These objectives were endorsed by the Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions of 3 April 2017 that, together with the Joint Communication by the High Representative and the Commission of 14 March 2017, form the EU Strategy for Syria, a country specific part of the EU regional strategy for Syria, Iraq and the Da'esh threat adopted in March 2015 and reviewed in May 2016.

Implementing this Regional Strategy, the EU has also stepped up its engagement, including by supporting, by non-military means, the efforts of the Global Coalition to counter Da’esh. The EU actions to counter Da'esh illustrate that the EU is fully committed to fighting terrorism, both inside and outside the European territory. The Syria and Iraq: Counter Terrorism/Foreign Fighters Strategy was endorsed at the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting of 20 October 2014 and the EU established an autonomous sanctions regime to target i.a. ISIL/Da'esh in September 2016.

The EU continues to provide support to the UN-led Geneva process through the EU regional initiative on the future of Syria, led by the High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini upon invitation by the European Council last year. The aim of the initiative is to foster political dialogue with key actors from the region in order to identify common ground on the post-conflict arrangements for Syria and examine the scope for reconciliation and reconstruction once a credible political transition is firmly under way.

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. In March 2017, EU delivered statements at the Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic during the Human Rights Council session.

The European Union has 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 restrictive measures. These measures have been targeted and include humanitarian exemptions. The EU will continue its policy of imposing additional sanctions targeting the regime and its supporters, as long as the repression continues. In May 2016, the Council extended EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime until 1 June 2018. The sanctions currently in place include notably 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. In addition, 235 people and 67 entities are targeted by a travel ban and an asset freeze over the violent repression against the civilian population in Syria. See annex for an overview of sanctions in place.

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 fourth JIM report was published in October 2016. The EU delivered a statement in the OPCW on 7 March 2017.

The EU Delegation to Syria expatriate staff continues to operate from Beirut, carrying out regular missions to Damascus.

Syria’s participation in regional programmes was suspended in September 2011 and the provision of loans and technical assistance through the European Investment Bank (EIB) was ceased in November 2011. Nevertheless, the EU maintains its direct support to the Syrian population, both inside Syria and in the neighbouring countries.

ECHO (European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection) has been a leading donor for providing humanitarian assistance inside Syria and maintains daily contact with various humanitarian actors in Syria. It provides humanitarian aid through its trusted partners such as ICRC, UN agencies and international and local implementing partners, using all possible channels to deliver assistance across Syria where it is most needed. This includes cross line operations and cross border from Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

Like the rest of the EU Delegation to Syria, the ECHO Office in Damascus was never closed. For security reasons, ECHO international staff was relocated in 2012 but continued to perform their tasks from Amman, Beirut and - when visas were granted - from Damascus. Only in February 2016 was the international staff promised permanent access to Syria.

As everywhere else in the world, ECHO Syria operates with great autonomy. Its work is based solely on humanitarian principles of independent, impartial, neutral and needs-based assistance.

The ECHO Office in Damascus allows the EU to properly monitor the scale-up of humanitarian aid operations inside Syria and to engage directly with humanitarian partners on the ground. Furthermore, the presence of ECHO in and around Syria informs the EU's active membership in the International Syria Support Group, especially in its humanitarian task force.

The EU also supports refugees and their host communities in the countries neighboring Syria.

For more information, visit the ECHO webpage on Syria:
http://ec.europa.eu/echo/where/middle-east-north-africa/syria_en

The EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian crisis adopted a package of programmes, the single biggest EU measure in response to the Syrian refugee crisis to date. The programmes will in the coming months help up to 1.5 million Syrian refugees and overstretched host communities in the nearest countries through the provision of basic education and child protection, better access to healthcare, improved water and waste-water infrastructure, as well as support to resilience, economic opportunities and social inclusion.

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