EU sanctions against Syria unlikely to have impact on the ground | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.05.2011
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EU sanctions against Syria unlikely to have impact on the ground

The European Union has imposed targeted sanctions against several Syrian officials as punishment for the crackdown on anti-government protesters. But the sanctions are unlikely to change the regime's political course.

Post of Presdient Bashar al-Assad as Syrians walk by

President Bashar al-Assad is not a target of the sanctions

Protests continued to rock Syria on Friday, May 13, with at least 3 more demonstrators killed by security forces. The demonstrators were killed despite promises by the government to a hold a national dialogue in the coming days to resolve the increasingly bloody crisis.

According to the United Nations, up to 850 Syrians have been killed since the military crackdown began and thousands more have been arrested.

In response, the European Union imposed sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime last Tuesday. The sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes that target 13 Syrian officials.

However, the EU's attempt to specifically target the regime elite is unlikely to force the government to change its violent course.

Carrot and stick

Mass of protesters in Banias

Syrians continue to take to streets, calling for Assad's ouster

The blacklisted officials include the president's brother, Maher, as well as the head of the intelligence service. But Assad himself has been spared.

According to Michael Mann, the spokesman for the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the decision to leave Assad off the list is part of a carrot-and-stick approach toward the regime.

"Obviously there's been a debate about why President Assad's name wasn't on there," Mann told Deutsche Welle.

"The feeling there is that we're saying [to him]: You have the chance to change your ways and embrace reform, and if you don't do that then we can add your name to the list very quickly."

Whether or not the EU can actually impact Assad's political calculus is up for debate. Michael Emerson, from the Center for Policy Studies in Brussels, believes that the sanctions are largely for show.

"It means the EU policy is making a symbolic protest against the murderous bloody repression, freezing the relationship - but that's it," Emerson told Deutsche Welle.

No cookie-cutter response

In contrast to its rather slow response to the Assad regime in Syria, many European states acted decisively to stop Moammar Gadhafi's crackdown in Libya, embargoing the regime's oil empire while launching a military intervention form the air.

Jan Techau, the director of Carnegie Europe, said the different policies in Syria and Libya are products of how the conflicts are represented in the public political sphere.

"The Libya situation was more visible from the beginning with more pictures and with more reports from the region," Techau told Deutsche Welle. "With Syria, it's less of a media story."

Syrian soldiers on top of tanks

The Syrian government has deployed the military to put down the uprising

Techau also said that the EU has concrete interests in Libya that are not necessarily present in Syria. European nations have made important business investments in Libya and they also fear an uncontrollable migration wave from the region.

Furthermore, the rapid military intervention in Libya has proven problematic.

"Syria is now the second one of this magnitude," Techau said. "There is considerably less appetite to intervene there knowing how little we've gotten out of the Libya situation."

Diplomats say that the EU may add Assad to the list of sanctioned Syrian officials next week. However, even if Brussels decides to expand and sharpen the sanctions, the impact on the ground will likely be limited.

"The EU can't do much about Syria. It has very little trade with it," Techau said. "When you don't have a high volume of trade, then sanctions are a very limited kind of instrument."

Author: Vanessa Mock, Spencer Kimball
Editor: Toma Tasovac

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