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History of the Delegation for relations with the Mashreq countries (DMAS)

The European Parliament's Delegation for relations with the Mashreq countries has existed since 1979, the year of the first direct elections to the Parliament.

Within a few years of being launched, the delegation's members began meeting elected representatives from the countries composing the Mashreq area: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

In the nearly four decades that have elapsed since, the delegation has held dozens of inter-parliamentary meetings with its Mashreq counterparts, and spent significant time in Brussels and Strasbourg investigating the situation in the region and relations with the EU.

The intensity of contacts and the focus of the delegation have, however, shifted considerably in that time, largely in response to the dramatic political changes that have swept the region.

Earliest contacts

Egypt was the first of these countries to mark the budding relationship with personal contacts: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg in February 1981. Eight months later, the President of the European Parliament, Simone Veil, attended President's Sadat's funeral in Cairo.

Regular inter-parliamentary meetings started in the spring of 1983. In March of that year, the DMAS delegation embarked on a working tour, visiting Cairo for the first European Parliament (EP)-Egypt inter-parliamentary meeting, and Amman for the first EP-Jordan inter-parliamentary meeting.

In April 1983, a delegation of Syrian parliamentarians arrived in Strasbourg for the inaugural EP-Syria inter-parliamentary meeting.

Contacts with Lebanon, which suffered a civil war from 1975 to 1990, would take the longest to get off the ground: it was not until 1994 that the DMAS delegation travelled to the country, holding the first EP-Lebanon inter-parliamentary meeting with counterparts in Beirut on 16-20 March.

A wider remit

During the Parliament's fourth and fifth legislative term (1994-2004), the Mashreq delegation merged with what had been the "Delegation for relations with the Gulf States", becoming the "Delegation for relations with the Mashreq countries and Gulf States".

Responsible for relations with 11 countries instead of 4, the delegation could no longer focus on its "first four" countries, and inter-parliamentary contact with each country thinned.

Still, delegation members met their Mashreq counterparts 14 times over the course of the decade: four each with Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, and two with Jordan.

A period of relative calm and concentration

For the Parliament's sixth legislature, the delegation was again separated from the delegation devoted to the Gulf and could concentrate its efforts again on the Mashreq region.

Ten inter-parliamentary meetings were organised in the five-year term, from mid-2004 to mid-2009, with most of these "outgoing" - with MEPs travelling to the partner countries' parliament.

Of the four countries, Syria was the primary focus, with meetings taking place yearly. Members of the DMAS delegation travelled to Damascus and Aleppo to meet Syrian legislators twice, and Syrian representatives also visited Strasbourg twice.

Three meetings with Lebanese counterparts were also held, two with Egyptian (including one in Cairo in 2008) and one with Jordanian.

Conflict and change

Such a schedule, with its regular trips to Syria, would be sadly inconceivable today, as the region has been upended by a civil war since 2011.

The events of the "Arab Awakening", beginning in 2010, have meant that the parliament that was once the DMAS delegation's steadiest partners -the People's Council of Syria - has largely been removed from the sphere of possible encounters.

This is not to stay that the delegation has shunned its partners. Since mid-2014, when the European Parliament opened its current, eighth legislature, the DMAS delegation has visited
  • Jordan in 2014 and 2017,
  • Lebanon in 2015 and
  • Egypt in 2016.
While the pace of inter-parliamentary meetings has been slowed by the political situation in the region, the delegation's attention to the situation there has only intensified.

Monthly meetings in Brussels and Strasbourg serve to analyse the local situation and consider the EU's response. Exchanges of views with significant speakers - senior staff from the UN, diplomatic services, non-government organisations, academia, the European External Action Service and other stakeholders - are organised at every meeting.

In May 2017, for example, a discussion on "Jordan and the impact of the Syrian crisis" included not only DMAS MEPs but also the Director from the East West Institute, a Senior Policy Fellow from the European Council for Foreign Affairs and a senior officer from the UNHCR.

Such discussions keep members up to speed with the profound challenges the Mashreq region faces, as well as the possible ways the EU may help alleviate the crisis.