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Europe

EU at a loss over Syria

EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg adopt further sanctions against Syria and urge Turkey to show restraint after the shooting down of a fighter place. But they have little more to offer.

For the 16th time since the uprisings began in Syria, the EU has imposed tougher sanctions on the government. This was one result of a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday in Luxemburg. One more individual and entire government and state institutions, including the foreign and defense ministries, have been black-listed.

Those on the list have had travel bans imposed, assets frozen and trade restrictions put in place. Nevertheless, the EU's new sanctions seem to signal helplessness. All the restrictions to date have brought no change in the violence sweeping the country. Europeans are opposed to military intervention. But the situation has become more sensitive since the shooting down by Syria of a Turkish warplane.

And it's since become clear that Syria shot at a second jet, which had to break off its mission.

Turkey should not let itself be provoked

Westerwelle and Rosenthal at today's meeting

Neither Westerwelle, left, or Rosenthal want a military solution

The foreign ministers strongly condemned the incident. Although exact circumstances could be "interpreted differently," said Laurent Fabius, alluding to the question of the violation of Syrian airspace, the shooting down was "unacceptable."

His Luxembourg counterpart Jean Asselborn said, "This is only possible in a dictatorship." German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle called the attack "totally disproportionate." But Westerwelle urged Turkey to be cautious: "While we clearly and decisively condemn the act, de-escalation is now crucial; we all have an interest in ensuring that this situation does not come to a head."

Hoping for a rethink in Moscow

Turkey is a member of NATO and has called an emergency meeting of the Alliance for Tuesday. But from statements already made by NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmuessen, it doesn't seem that NATO sees the need for a unified military response from the Alliance. Some EU foreign ministers expressed themselves similarly. Dutch minister Uri Rosenthal, whose country is also a NATO member said, "We don't go for whatever interventions. We stick still to the Annan plan and we will [continue] to go ahead to a political transition in Syria."

His Austrian counterpart, Michael Spindelegger, is now relying on a change of heart in Russia, which has so far supported the Syrian regime and thus undermined many diplomatic efforts to end the oppression. Spindelegger sees the shooting down of the Turkish aircraft as one of several events that shows "what can happen if there is no end to the situation. And so I very much hope Russia is ready to talk."

Sanctions have little effect

Assad

The sanctions are not getting rid of Assad

But no-one expressed more clearly that the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt the extent to which the EU doesn't know what to do next. He's been visiting Syria's neighbors in the last few days, and he has no illusions. Even the much vaunted sanctions the EU is trying to impose are for Bildt of little value, perhaps even counterproductive.

"Sanctions are not really hitting the regime," he said. "Sanctions are hitting the economy. That has an indirect, long term effect on the regime, but not an immediate one." The EU will only achieve something in Syria when it shows the regime a "political way out," but not through militarization of the conflict. "We will regret it if we don't manage to stop the slide towards militarization of the conflict further."

Who are the rebels?

The only chance Bildt sees is to support political change in Syria, although until now all such attempts have failed. Indeed, UN special representative Kofi Annan has failed to reach a ceasefire in Syria. But the opposition too has not fulfilled the necessary conditions. Allegations of serious violence are also levied against the insurgents. And EU foreign representative Catherine Ashton called the Syrian opposition to unite. It is important, she said, "that the opposition is inclusive, that it represents the Syrian people, and that it is able to come up with its own plan." The EU's response to the situation seems quite helpless; it's playing a waiting game, it judges, condemns, and imposes more sanctions - just like those which have so far been unsuccessful.

Author: Christoph Hasselbach, Brussels / jlw
Editor: Michael Lawton

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