The EU has agreed on more sanctions against Syria and tighter controls to prevent weapons deliveries. But so far sanctions have failed to stop the violence, so Brussels also plans to increase its aid to refugees.
The European Union has broadened existing sanctions to affect more Syrian individuals and institutions.
Monday's decision specifically targets senior members of the country's security apparatus. They will no longer be permitted to travel to the EU and will have their foreign bank accounts blocked. Passenger and cargo planes from the country's official airline, Syrian Air, are also no longer permitted to land in the EU, except in emergency situations.
In order to stop weapons being brought into Syria, the EU has obliged its member states to check all ships and planes heading for Syria from their territory if there is a suspicion that weapons or equipment used to suppress the Syrian people might be on board. Michael Link of the German Foreign Ministry described the continued fighting in Syria as President Bashar Assad's "final battle." According to Link, Assad "is fighting for survival. He certainly might be able to kill more people but he can no longer win."
The EU foreign ministers have reacted with concern to Syria's threat to use chemical weapons in the event of an attack from outside. Several of the ministers had already warned of that possibility before Damascus actually issued the concrete threat.
EU prepares for refugees
The EU currently expects little help to come from the UN Security Council. Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed any meaningful measures. The EU wants to continue to pressure Russia to drop Assad, but it anticipates little movement on the issue, according to Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. Brussels is not considering military intervention.
There is therefore little the EU can do, other than impose sanctions and try to introduce measures to ease the consequences of the current civil war. The EU Commission has doubled its financial aid for Syrian refugees to 40 million euros ($48 million). Additional aid money is also coming from individual member states.
The Commission estimates that more than 100,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, and that there are around 1 million refugees inside the country. According to the Foreign Ministry, the EU is particularly seeking to help the refugees within Syria in order to prevent people from leaving the country. EU governments are already worried that they, too, will be faced with a flood of Syrian refugees.
Who is the opposition?
The EU now has its hopes pinned on the Syrian opposition, but Brussels faces the problem that this opposition is not unified. Instead there are several groups with rather different interests.
EU foreign policy chief Catherin Ashton has appealed to the groups to move closer together to cooperate more effectively. Part of this cooperation should be to send a clear message that the violence needs to end. Opposition fighters have also been accused of perpetrating acts of violence.
Several EU ministers explicitly pointed out on Monday that the rebels should not seek revenge against the government troops or citizens loyal to the Assad regime. There also is concern among the EU members about possible Islamist elements within the Syrian opposition.
Italy's Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata admitted that the civil war situation offered "jihadists plenty of room to establish roots in the country." This was exactly the reason why the violence needed to end, he said.
However, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said his government supported the actions of regime soldiers who chose to desert and fight with the rebels. "We should find means to protect the families of possible deserters so that they are able to do what we encourage them to do," he said.
Monday's sanctions were the 17th round of EU sanctions against Syria since fighting began a year and a half ago.
Author: Christoph Hasselbach / ai
Editor: Charlotte Collins