President. – The next item is the statement by the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the situation in Syria.
Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, President-in-Office of the Council. − Madam President, honourable Members, it is again my pleasure to address you on behalf of the High Representative and Vice-President of the Commission, Catherine Ashton.
The situation in Syria continues to be bleak. The regime has not stopped its violent repression and nearly every day we hear reports of Syrians being killed, injured, detained or abused. The overall death toll of the bloody campaign is said to be far beyond 2 000 people. The Syrian leadership confirms again and again that it is unwilling to listen to anyone, be it the EU or neighbouring countries in the region.
In this perspective, we can have no doubt that our clear position on the Syrian regime is right and needs to be maintained. Bashar al-Assad has lost all credibility due to the many promises he has repeatedly made and failed to fulfil. He has also lost his legitimacy as a result of the continuous large-scale use of brutal force against the Syrian people. There is no way forward for Syria with this regime, and we think President al-Assad should now step aside.
I am pleased to say that the EU has been able to accompany its strong position with adequate actions. We have swiftly broadened our restrictive measures and are progressively targeting, with asset freezes and travel bans, more and more of those responsible for the ongoing repression and, from now on, those supporting the regime.
Importantly, we have introduced an embargo on the import of Syrian oil. We expect it will have a major impact on the regime’s financial situation, since the EU consumes more than 90% of the oil Syria exports. We are going ahead for as long as necessary with further measures, including a suspension of new investments in the oil sector.
It is essential for us to explain properly why we have taken all these actions against the Syrian regime. Given the strength of our measures against the Syrian regime, we must be proactive and well-coordinated in communicating with our partners and public opinion in Syria and elsewhere. We must make it clear that we are targeting our sanctions so that we can ultimately achieve a halt to the violence and assist the Syrian people to accomplish their legitimate aspirations.
We must also reach out to the countries of the region which have increasingly expressed concern about the present situation in Syria. Their calls for an end to the continuous violence, and their appeals to the Syrian regime for a complete change of attitude, match our own efforts and open the way for more concertation between us. This is even more relevant with regard to the Arab League, which has recently been in contact with the Syrian authorities and has tried to promote a more open approach in Damascus. One cannot but recognise that so far these attempts have not been successful, but that must not prevent the European Union from maintaining close contact with those regional partners which could, in a not-too-distant future, play a significant role in the evolution of Syria.
Finally, we must not forget about Syria’s future. Rightly, we ask questions about what comes next and what it will mean for the Syrian people, for the situation in the region and for others, including ourselves. We should do our best to know the alternatives and the different opposition groups, whether abroad or inside Syria.
Let me be very clear. It is time to encourage those who are capable of offering Syria a better future to unite and show political maturity and commitment to the values we share. We need to repeat time and again that there must be a peaceful political transition to democracy, led and owned by the whole Syrian people and free from violence. I believe the Syrian people can accomplish this.
Ioannis Kasoulides, on behalf of the PPE Group. – Madam President, over 2 600 people have lost their lives due to the lethal force used by the Syrian authorities against unarmed civilian demonstrators. This has continued for the last five months and the regime shows no signs of changing policy.
This is an intolerable situation. For how long will the international community continue to be a spectator to such bloodshed? Shame on the Security Council for not being able until now to agree on a resolution, contenting themselves with a mere statement. One wonders how Russia and China can remain passive towards these cold-blooded massive assassinations.
The EU, the Council and High Representative have correctly widened sanctions and used strict language of condemnation, but the time has come to toughen our approach towards Russia and China, as French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé has done. Surely it cannot be business as usual if the two Permanent Members fail in their duties.
It is also shameful to me that it took five months for the Arab League to undertake an initiative, and although details are unknown, I doubt if the Syrian people would be able to accept any arrangement falling short of their legitimate aspirations, and especially to be governed by those whose hands are stained with their blood. The more people are killed, the more it becomes apparent that the regime has crossed the Rubicon.
Richard Howitt, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Madam President, as Socialists and Democrats we support wholeheartedly the recent Council conclusions that the Syrian regime loses any legitimacy by choosing a path of repression instead of fulfilling its own promise of reforms. We call on President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power immediately and we reject impunity for all those responsible for the gross violation of human rights. We back sanctions that target the regime, but which minimise the negative impact on the living conditions of the population.
Just today, I have been in touch with opposition contacts who inform me that there have been further protests in the city of Homs and in Hama, but also sadly state that the crackdown by government forces continues and that the death toll is rising. I join with Baroness Ashton in condemning in the strongest terms the killing of the human rights activist Ghiyath Matar, a 26-year-old who had been instrumental in organising protests in the Damascus suburb of Daraya. He, like so many others, defied the security forces and paid the ultimate price. I am sure you will share my disgust at reports filtering out of the country today that Syrian security forces attacked the gathering of mourners at his very funeral.
We have just finished a debate on Libya. Of course we should call for the UN Human Rights Council to have a fact-finding mission immediately to the country, but we should follow the model of Libya and call for referral to the International Criminal Court. Indeed, I say today to our European representatives: you should be proactive in seeking support for that referral in the UN Security Council.
I believe too, whilst welcoming the strong condemnation of the violence by countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that Europe must call for active follow-up by the Arab League following the Secretary-General’s visit – finally – to meet the Syrian authorities. As my colleague Mr Kasoulides said, the number of deaths is 2 600, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights this week. The Syrian people have demonstrated that things must change and face a terrible risk, but the current regime will not listen. We in Europe and the international community have to show that their cries are not in vain.
Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Madam President, even in the face of the most horrific crimes in Syria, the EU finds it difficult to speak with a strong and united voice.
In Syria, snipers are shooting people for holding a cell phone, children are tortured to death, the Government is turning off water, electricity, food and medicine supplies to entire cities, censorship and misinformation are rampant, and cell phone networks and Internet are down. People are slaughtered and buried in mass graves, while the families are forced to state that these murders were the work of so-called thugs.
Ghayath Mattar, a human rights defender and activist for a peaceful transition in Syria, was tortured to death this week. The people who attended his funeral were shot at by State security forces. Surely this was the work of thugs – thugs of the Syrian State apparatus which no longer has any credibility or legitimacy. Let us not forget that the number of 2 600 estimated deaths refers to a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a friend, a spouse or a child each and every time. The crime? Speaking out peacefully for justice, rights, opportunities and self-determination.
Meanwhile, the EU is not leveraging its weight. As Syria’s most significant trade partner, now is the time to impose further targeted sanctions. We must also explicitly force the economic elites who are in al-Assad’s camp to make a choice. Doing business with the EU means breaking with al-Assad, and al-Assad must be held accountable for his deeds.
The acts of the Syrian regime remind me of the Iranian regime’s acts, and we have strong reasons to believe that they are providing tools and know-how, but we must not allow the same to happen as in Iran in 2009 – for the people to be further crushed and oxygen, freedom and opportunity for a brighter future to be squeezed out of society even more.
People look to the EU to act as a global player. And the EU? It stares at its own navel. The EU must liaise much more intensely with candidate Member State Turkey to act sensibly towards Syria. While we welcome the shelter provided for refugees, I want to highlight that it is regrettable that Prime Minister Erdogan did not mention Syria at the Arab League in Cairo yesterday. Even though I appreciate the presence of Comissioner Füle and Minister Dowgielewicz here, we would have liked to have seen Catherine Ashton here before this House today to discuss the EU’s foreign policy and the urgent situation in Syria in particular. I can only hope that her absence does not reflect the broader absence of the EU and the EAS on the ground at this crucial moment in time, but I am worried that it does.
I sincerely hope that the Polish Presidency will use this momentum of an all-time low to revive and strengthen Europe in the world. Process and results must not be confused.
Ulrike Lunacek, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Madam President, on behalf of the Greens-EFA Group in this Parliament I also want to strongly condemn the escalating use of force against peaceful protestors in Syria and the brutal, systematic persecution of activists, pro-democracy activists, human rights activists and journalists. I also demand full access to Syria by international humanitarian and human rights organisations and international media.
We also fully support the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council of 23 August 2011 which demanded that an international independent commission should be dispatched to Syria to investigate the human rights violations in Syria which may amount to crimes against humanity. But there is another issue where I feel the European Union and this Parliament are not as united as they should be – an issue that Ms Schaake has also just referred to – which is the question of business relations with Syria. I agree that in our resolution we demand that sanctions are also put into effect on assets in Syria, on oil production in Syria, but my Group – the Greens – also requested that it should also be made clear that the EU Member States step up sanctions against Syria by banning European companies from investing in the Syrian energy sector.
This amendment has not got a majority in this House, so I ask whether we should not also demand that EU companies who are still investing in Syria, who are still getting profits from Syria, break with Assad and stop doing business with this cruel and atrocious regime.
Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Madam President, when installed by the Syrian Ba’athist clique which surrounded him, President Bashar al-Assad was seen by many as a young reformer – a doctor like me, which implied some degree of compassion – and the man who would lead Syria away from the brutal dictatorship of his father, dominated by the Alawite sect, into a modern pluralist democracy. Alas this was not going to come to pass. Sadly, the infectious Arab Spring desire for freedom and democracy was never going to be acceptable to the Assad Damascus dictatorship, which instead gunned down thousands of unarmed peaceful protestors, including women and children, on the feeble excuse that some armed Islamists had joined the rebellion. Of course, this is ironic given the fact that Damascus has given huge support to Hamas and Hezbollah in the past.
Syria is not Libya and, sadly, al-Assad knows that we cannot launch a similar right-to-protect NATO military operation on the side of the rebels, but we can state our revulsion at Assad’s brutality, and we can apply stronger sanctions, including selective bans on investment from European companies and oil import bans, which are in place already, and we can treat the illegitimate Ba’athist leadership as the pariahs that they really are.
Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). - Madam President, events during the last year have been not only shocking, but also disappointing.
When Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father 11 years ago it was hoped that he would follow a reformist agenda, but it would appear that the real power might not be in the hands of Bashar but in those of his hardline relations. The Ba’ath Party’s image was never democratic, but it is now one of violent repression, which is perhaps disappointing because its substantive policies, as distinct from its methods, are less Islamist and more secular than in most Arab countries. Indeed, its Christian population – 10% of the total – enjoys religious, though not of course political, freedom.
I would like to see a democratic reform of Syria, but we must not presume that all of al-Assad’s opponents are democrats. They include hardline Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who would replace a repressive secular state with a repressive theocratic state.
Ria Oomen-Ruijten (PPE). - (NL) Madam President, President Assad’s regime has now lost all legitimacy. We can no longer allow ourselves to simply keep talking about the fact that 2 600 people have died, while the whole world just watches and does nothing except enforcing an oil boycott. What we should be doing, and not just in Europe, is taking further measures that will hit the regime while sparing the citizens. That was my first point.
Secondly, we should ensure that the United Nations becomes more active than it has been so far. My third point is about the International Commission of Inquiry. The UN will send international observers and I assume that that observer delegation will actually be able to take some worthwhile action, with all possible support from Europe.
Saïd El Khadraoui (S&D). - (NL) Madam President, I concur with those members who have expressed their disgust over what is happening in Syria. The pressure to put an end to the current situation must be increased further, but we will not be able to do this on our own. If we are to be truly effective, we need a broad coalition – in the region itself, in particular.
That is why the European Union should keep track, not only of what Turkey is doing, but also of the Arab League’s initiatives – which are of a more recent date – and, in particular, the initiative approved by the League on 28 August. Amongst other things, this initiative calls for an immediate end to violence, the removal of the military from political and civilian life, the release of prisoners, presidential elections at the end of President Assad’s term in 2015 and, in the meantime, a transitional period, overseen by a government of national unity which will include representatives of the opposition and which will organise free elections before the end of the year. Obviously, they will also need a new parliament, which will subsequently draft a new constitution.
My question is whether you, as the High Representative and the representative of the Representative, respectively, could give a little more resonance to this initiative and in that way exert more pressure on the regime, not only from Europe, but also from within the region itself, in order to put an end to what is happening there.
Louis Michel (ALDE). – (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, the numbers of dissidents arrested, searches, assassinations and acts of torture are growing. It is stating the obvious to remind people that human rights have been violated across the board. Even so, the population is fighting for more dignity, more freedom and more democracy. The people deserve more support than mere posturing and rhetoric. We are well aware that if we do not take action, the movement could descend into a religious civil war that would ultimately benefit Bashar al-Assad’s party.
So let me remind you again that we are calling for the creation of a protected area in the north of Syria to provide safety for refugees and for serious consideration to be given to whether we should simply expel the Syrian diplomats in European countries. Bashar al-Assad must be isolated completely. Turkey has now begun to take a harder line, and the Arab states are distancing themselves: Qatar was the first country to recall its ambassador, and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have followed suit.
I think that we should also do everything in our power to persuade Russia and China to approve a resolution that includes sanctions.
Sajjad Karim (ECR). - Madam President, today, as professional snipers explode bullets in the heads of demonstrators in Syria leaving horrifying mutilations, it is quite clear that this is nothing short of pure terrorism.
I have previously, when we debated Syria, wanted to concentrate on the role played by online activists and I want to explore that further. It is quite clear that, without normal media outlets in operation, online activists are the only lifeline that people in Syria have today to let the world know what is happening.
The Government there has taken a two-pronged approach so far. Firstly, it seeks to block sites including Facebook, and then it decides to rescind that ban in certain cases, not out of openness but in order to try and identify those activists. It then moves on to a second stage, which is to arrest those activists who persist and then force those activists to pass over their usernames and passwords. They do that through the use of torture, including food and sleep deprivation, fingernail extraction, electric shocks, stripping naked and flogging and sexual abuse of female detainees by male security officers.
On 6 July, I attended this plenary debate and I wanted concentration on these issues. The High Representative very kindly then wrote to me on 26 July. In the letter she states, and I quote: ‘Despite the constraints of an environment which is so controlled by the government, the EU is developing practical actions to support the civil society and human rights defenders in Syria and beyond’. I ask you, what exactly are those measures in relation to online activists? What are we doing? What more can we be doing?
Finally, I simply say this. I met Mr Bashar al-Assad not so long ago. I found him to be a most charming man who, directly to our delegation, promised reform. He has not delivered. He is not going to deliver. He must go immediately.
Andreas Mölzer (NI). – (DE) Madam President, with a carrot and stick, that is to say with a few social concessions and brutal violence, the Syrian President is attempting to stay in power, we know that. Not only the West, but the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council, too, have called on Assad to make serious reforms and to end the bloodshed. Although the measures taken by the EU to date, such as the weapons embargo, freezing of accounts and a ban on the import of oil, are certainly damaging the Syrian economy, whether the planned investment ban can have any effect remains to be seen.
It is clear in any case that, with increasing economic pressure, the noose around Assad’s neck is tightening, as the dissatisfaction of the people is growing. Whether Syria is on the verge of a civil war remains open to question, however. Firstly, the military remains faithful to the regime and, secondly, there appears not to be a single town that is not under the control of the regime and thus could be the place for the start of physical resistance.
If Assad gives in to the economic pressure and a civil war really does break out, we can in any case expect a flood of refugees into the European Union. In my opinion, therefore, we need to take appropriate measures now.
Krzysztof Lisek (PPE). – (PL) Madam President, Commissioner, President-in-Office of the Council, as my colleagues have said, it is true that Bashar al-Assad took power on a wave of hope. Many diplomats, many politicians worldwide thought that if a young British-educated doctor took power in Syria, he would introduce reforms.
I would like to share a personal recollection. Two and a half years ago, I had the pleasure of chairing the Polish Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, and during our meeting with President Assad we asked him whether political and national reform would follow economic reform. President Assad’s answer was as follows: ’There is no need.The people of Syria do not want it.’
Today we can see how wrong Mr Assad was. Today, tens of thousands of Syrians out on the streets are showing that they want a free state, that they want democracy, that they want to live in a normal country. We must support this action and that is why I am happy with the action that the EU has taken, and I am glad that we are cooperating with the United States. We must, of course, redouble our efforts to convince Russia and to convince China, and we must bring about a UN Resolution.
Carmen Romero López (S&D). – (ES) Madam President, President-in-Office of the Council, Commissioner, I am afraid I shall repeat what has already been said today, because we cannot really take any other course of action, and it is important for the EU to step up its level of contact with members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and other developing countries, so that our position with regard to Syria can be more decisive.
It is clear that some Member States are taking steps, but the EU should be more visible in that area and have more initiative, because the fact is that we are trying to avoid an armed conflict. The situation in Syria demands the UNSC resolution that Parliament is asking for: a resolution that not only condemns the regime but also supports the population that is risking its life to fight for democracy, and acknowledges that vital role.
That is why those countries that have finally recognised the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Libya should be pressured to do so before any military intervention takes place, because all anybody wants is to bring about a peaceful transition.
The European Parliament should therefore make it clear that no further deaths must be caused by the passivity and inaction of the governments that today are failing to bring about that peaceful transition.
Laima Liucija Andrikienė (PPE). - Madam President, we have already seen three changes of power in the Arab world and the whole international community is waiting for a fourth one. The brutal response by the Syrian Government to the legitimate protests of its own people deserves the strongest possible condemnation, while President al-Assad should face international criminal justice for his actions.
Allow me to offer my congratulations on the decision taken by the Council almost two weeks ago to impose the ban on oil imports from Syria, which account for almost a quarter of the Syrian economy. Unlike on some other issues, the EU Member States managed to come up with a single position on these sanctions and this should be applauded.
Nevertheless, we must discuss other ways in which to force Syria to stop the slaying of its own citizens. More intense negotiations must be carried out with key players on the Syrian issue: Russia and China, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and Turkey, as the key power in the region, have the potential to influence significantly the course of events in Syria.
Corina Creţu (S&D). – (RO) Madam President, I too think that European diplomacy must send out a tough message to all the parties in the conflict in Syria to get them to sit down at the negotiating table in order to reach a peaceful solution to the crisis which has been causing bloodshed in this country for six months.
According to the assessment of the reprisals by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the death toll has reached 2 600. The Syrian regime itself acknowledges that the violence has resulted in thousands of casualties. We have been witnessing for months scenes of appalling violence against the opponents of the Damascus regime, ranging from opening fire on protestors and using heavy weapons to suppress demonstrators to acts of barbarity, such as inflicting torture on political opponents. We utterly condemn these brutal human rights violations and call for an immediate halt to any reprisals against the protestors.
I also believe that we must demand categorically for the troops to be withdrawn to barracks, political prisoners to be released and an independent commission to be set up to investigate the killings committed recently. There are certain key conditions for enabling dialogue to take place between the government and opposition. Indeed, if the Syrian authorities are going to pursue their policy of force against their own people, I think that international protection measures are needed to put an end to the massacre of civilians.
Tunne Kelam (PPE). - Madam President, systematic use of violence by the Syrian regime has become an international issue and requires international investigation. Let me express my admiration for the people who have continued their protests for almost half a year, risking their lives; risking being killed or injured. Syrian people have been able to unite almost the whole world around them, except Russia and some other states, in support of their quest for freedom; even the Iranian President last week called for an end to the violent crackdown.
The Syrian regime has lost not only the trust of its people but also its international legitimacy. I think this is the clearest and strongest message today. Two months ago it was not so clear. I am very happy to hear Minister Dowgielewicz talking about further sanctions against Syria. I agree with him, but I would also like to remind him that we need to stop EU firms investing in Syria and conducting business with its regime at this stage.
The EU should also use its whole weight to have all members of the Security Council on board to pass resolutions and sanctions. Finally, the EU should be prepared, whenever possible, to contact and help democratic opposition movements and groups to organise themselves and develop friendly cooperation. This needs organisation and preparedness from the side of the EU and also preparedness to provide the necessary finance.
Emine Bozkurt (S&D). - (NL) Madam President, after a very long period of deliberation, the EU approved more sanctions against the Syrian regime at the beginning of September. I would like to ask the minister and, via him, also Madam Ashton: when are we going to see the results of those sanctions?
Because we are still hearing very worrying reports coming out of Syria on a daily basis. They just keep on coming. On Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that around 2 600 people had been killed since mid-March. On Tuesday, Amnesty International announced that at least 95 people, including many activists, had died in Syrian jails under suspicious circumstances. More than 13 000 refugees have crossed the border, and others who are trying to escape have been forcibly stopped by Syrian troops. Humanitarian aid is being blocked.
In July, in a debate attended by Baroness Ashton, I asked if we could demand an independent investigation by the UN Security Council into the human rights violations. I am pleased that, in August, a UN resolution was adopted which has made such an investigation possible. However, that is apparently still not enough for the Assad regime. What further action are you and Madam Ashton planning to take? Will there be more sanctions against the Syrian regime? Is it true that we will soon have a ban on European investment in Syria’s oil sector? Finally, in addition to imposing economic sanctions, what is the EU going to do to help Syria’s civilian population?
Pino Arlacchi (S&D). - Madam President, I am happy to see that the whole Parliament has a clear and strong position on the tragedy that is unfolding in Syria.
The S&D Group has just tabled a joint motion for a resolution which reflects the deep concern of Europe, the Arab world and the rest of the planet over the continued brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters perpetrated by the al-Assad regime. The figure of 2 600 has been quoted as the number of people whose lives have been destroyed by the brutality of the regime, but many more have been injured, tortured or detained.
Demonstrations and protests in Syria are demanding the ousting of al-Assad and his family and an end to the rule of the Baa’th party. The same demand comes from the EU and the most important international actors. The protesters insist on the peaceful nature of their political movement but, in order to justify the atrocities against them, the Syrian regime claims it is confronting religious extremists. This message is false and misleading. All indicators and information show that no extremists are leading the democratic protests in Syria. We must reject the invitation of the al-Assad regime to listen to them and to the other Arab tyrannies on the spectre of mujahidism and similar threats. Our support for the Syrian democratic forces should continue and our revulsion towards the current regime’s course of action must continue to be total.
Just one final word about sanctions. Sanctions by the international community should be maintained, but we should be very careful to keep in place smart sanctions: sanctions against individuals, against prominent members of the Government and the al-Assad circle of power. That approach works. They should be different from the sanctions of the past that strengthened authoritarian regimes instead of weakening them.
I associate myself with the call by several colleagues for a ban on European companies which invest in energy and other sectors in Syria.
Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE). - (SK) Madam President, in recent months we have unfortunately witnessed the violent suppression of expressions of protest by Syrian nationals against the repressive state, a state apparatus to which several thousand civilians have already fallen victim. Persecution, deprivation of liberty, unjustified arrests, and particularly loss of life is now occurring in Syria on a daily basis, which completely throws the legitimacy of the current political leadership led by Bashar al-Assad into doubt. The European Union should therefore give a helping hand to the civil society to create a functional opposition, which would include all minorities, including Christians who exist there, which would then be able to contribute to a calm and peaceful transition in that country to democratic rule. I believe that effective sanctions by the European Union will help to force Assad's regime to abandon this violence.
Sławomir Witold Nitras (PPE). – (PL) Madam President, it should be clearly stated that the – I think I am right in saying – former President Assad has joined the group of graduates of prominent European universities in whom we have had great hope, but who, as it has turned out, have disappointed us.We should draw a lesson from this for the future, as those people who say we allowed ourselves to be deceived for many years are right; our hopes for reform in Syria were linked with President Assad – in vain, as it turned out.
We should be aware of the consequences for the future. I would like to have confidence in the decision-makers – in Baroness Ashton, in the Commission – that in future we will draw conclusions from this affair and apply them to other countries with which today we have normal relations but which equally are not pushing through reforms. First and foremost, democratic reforms should be brought in. Economic relations should not exclude everything else. These processes should run side by side.
Véronique De Keyser (S&D). – (FR) Madam President, it is hard to feel powerless in the face of what is happening in Syria. I fully endorse the outright condemnation of the situation in Syria, as expressed in this resolution, together with the call for Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power and all the proposed firm gestures, namely withdrawing our diplomats or expelling theirs and devising targeted sanctions. Yet there is no model for intervention.
We are powerless but we could also unleash tragedy. For those who are familiar with Syria, the phantom of another Iraq has emerged. Should we introduce sanctions that are designed to force the regime into a corner and will impoverish the population? No. Do we need some kind of military intervention? That would be extremely dangerous. Should we take the same approach as in Libya and back the opposition in Syria in an attempt to support that way? I say again, there is no model for Syria: Syria is a real powder keg.
I think that for the time being we should contemplate diplomatic censure and should try to achieve something within the United Nations. We need to ask Baroness Ashton to visit her Chinese and Russian counterparts, whom she sees at the Quartet meetings, and try to achieve something. Whatever happens, let us not rush in headlong and think that the Libyan model can be applied to Syria, any more than the Iraqi model, which resulted in so much tragedy, can.
Isabelle Durant (Verts/ALE). – (FR) Madam President, I very much agree with the comments made by Ms De Keyser.
I think that the Syrian resistance fighters are heroes. Every week, dozens are threatened, disappear or are shot under this bloodthirsty regime. They deserve enduring support in the form of all the measures described: fitting sanctions, political isolation, work within the United Nations.
Allow me, though, to refer to one individual by name: Dr Nached, a psychoanalyst who was imprisoned three days ago. This is someone who has been very active on human rights issues and questions of citizenship. She is a symbol.
On behalf of Dr Nached, but also on behalf of everything that she symbolises, I urge the High Representative’s representative here today, Mr Füle, to take action in support of the doctor, both in her own right but also in the name of all those who are already victims and those who will become so in future. I believe that we owe our unfailing support to all these individuals, and I am singling out this one symbolic figure, this woman who has fought for human rights, for citizenship, for a multi-faith solution, because in my view she embodies something more than the battle that we all wish to fight and which requires immediate and urgent action.
Elena Băsescu (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, I welcome this debate just as tensions in Syria are escalating from one day to the next. It is unacceptable for Syrian security forces to take control of the hospitals in conflict zones. Evacuating patients and disrupting the administration of medicines is a crime in itself.
I should mention the risk of the tensions spoiling relations between the various religious communities. This country is renowned as a melting pot of cultures which have lived together in harmony for centuries. Any conflict between the religious groups would be dangerous for the course of events in the country, as well as for the region’s stability.
I must re-emphasise the abuses being committed by the government against demonstrators and members of the opposition. The acts of violent suppression committed by the Syrian regime are a serious violation of fundamental rights, especially the right of free expression.
Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. − Madam President, this is another issue where the Commission is working exceptionally closely with the External Action Service. In the face of the unacceptable violent repression unfolding in Syria, the Commission has reacted swiftly and was the first European Union donor to suspend its bilateral cooperation with the Syrian authorities on 25 May. The suspension was, for the first time in the region, based on the human rights violations committed by the Syrian regime.
The National Indicative Programme for the years 2011-2013 was also suspended. In fact, it has lost its relevance given the lack of will on the Syrian side to further implement reforms. It is clear that the Commission does not envisage further cooperation with the Syrian authorities at the moment.
Due to major operational constraints and the most recent political developments, the Commission is working jointly with the European External Action Service on clear instructions regarding the participation of Syria in regional programmes. This participation will be thoroughly assessed on a case-by-case basis.
In parallel, the Commission is currently working with the European Investment Bank on the suspension of its technical assistance to the EIB loan operations provided through the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership support fund. However, the Commission has not suspended all its activities in Syria. The projects directly benefiting the Palestinian and Iraqi refugees are ongoing and will continue. EuropeAid has also been actively exploring ways to further support Syrian civil society.
Under EuropeAid thematic instruments, several activities are also being implemented or planned in the field of support for civil society and human rights defenders. The European instrument for democracy and human rights allows confidential emergency support to human rights defenders, as well as support for the documentation of human rights violations, digital security, media and networking of activists.
Let me elaborate a little more on this issue. There are considerable risks in engaging with civil society within Syria under the current circumstances, especially for potential beneficiaries, and the Commission is cautiously preparing any new activity in light of the ‘do no harm’ principle. We are exploring ideas for supporting the so-called Syrian diaspora or civil society also outside Syria.
It should be stressed that the Commission is not losing sight of Syria. Once there is the possibility, we will do all we can to support Syria on its path toward a peaceful transition to democracy.
IN THE CHAIR: LÁSZLÓ TÕKÉS Vice-President
Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, President-in-Office of the Council. − Mr President, thank you for this important debate and all the contributions that were made. I think it is clear that we must push for a coherent approach in the international community. Since this issue has been raised concerning China and Russia, I just want to stress and confirm that, of course, the Syrian issue is raised in all meetings with those partners, so there can be no doubt about our commitment to bringing all the international community on board on the question of Syria.
I think we also have to be very clear about our objectives. We have to act against the regime and in the interests of the people, so it is essential that when we talk about sanctions we understand what effects those sanctions may have on the population. I could, referring to the number of arguments that were made, give you a very long list of the sanctions we have imposed and, yes, I want to confirm that we are ready to go even further, but we all know that we have to measure those sanctions in such a way as not to harm the population but to make life difficult for the regime.
I also want to emphasise once again the need for unity of the people and a strict message of non-violence. This must also be very much present in our communication on Syria.
I also want to confirm briefly that indeed the EU delegation in Damascus has contacts with civil society in Syria and those contacts involve the network of Member States’ embassies. Of course this is not a very easy process; you can understand that the security situation in Syria is not conducive to easy contacts between the EU delegation and civil society, so if you allow I would refrain from further details in the plenary of the European Parliament.
President. I have received six motions for a resolution which have been submitted in accordance with Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure(1).
The debate is closed.
The vote will take place on Thursday, 15 September 2011 at 12.00.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Proinsias De Rossa (S&D), in writing. – I support this resolution which strongly condemns the escalating use of force against peaceful protesters and the brutal and systematic persecution of pro-democracy activists, human rights defenders and journalists and expresses deepest concern at the gravity of the human rights violations perpetrated by the Syrian authorities, including mass arrests, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, disappearances and torture and calls for an immediate end to all such barbarism. We further express solidarity with the Syrian people fighting for their rights, commend their courage and determination and strongly support their aspiration to achieve full respect of the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. We call for an immediate, genuine and inclusive political process with the participation of all democratic political actors and civil society organisations which could be the basis of a peaceful and irreversible transition to democracy in Syria. Indeed we call for an independent, transparent and effective investigation into the killings, arrests, arbitrary detention and alleged forced disappearances and instances of torture by the Syrian security forces in order to ensure that the perpetrators of such acts are held to account.
Katarína Neveďalová (S&D), in writing. − (SK) Syria, unfortunately, unlike Libya, has a long way to go to achieve a democratic transition. The arrogance of President Assad's regime still prevents any kind of success for the democratic opposition in this country. According to a UN declaration the resistance of the current opposition in Syria has cost the lives of 2600 civilians! These numbers keep growing. Only last week the Syrian police shot and killed at least six demonstrators in the capital Damascus. Sanctions by the EU on Syria are, unfortunately, lacking in effect, whether they were sanctions against a particular entity or more serious sanctions against the oil industry. These sanctions have met with criticism because they will have little impact. However, despite this not very positive development, we must not give up. The European Union has only limited options when helping in the transition or stabilisation of these countries, and economic sanctions are one of them. I therefore agree with the extension of sanctions and call upon Member States to seek to involve other powers such Russia and China, as international cooperation in issues pertaining to this country is still lacking.
Cristian Dan Preda (PPE), in writing. – (RO) The last resolution from the European Parliament on the situation in Syria was adopted a mere two months ago. Unfortunately, nothing has changed in the interim. The al-Assad regime continues to turn a deaf ear to the demands for freedom and social justice being expressed peacefully by Syrian citizens. Bashar al-Assad acknowledges only superficially that these demands are legitimate and cites the notion of an external plot to justify continuing the violent repression.
The additional sanctions adopted by the Council at the start of the month definitely mark a step forward. However, I want to stress that we urgently need to do more to get the rest of the international community involved in putting together a firm, coherent response at UN level, in conjunction with the Arab League. We have wasted enough time. We must send a clear message to the al-Assad regime: human rights violations in Syria will not be tolerated.