The latest round of European Union (EU) sanctions against Syria, agreed today in Brussels, proves why the EU’s “common denominator” approach to foreign policy will never work.
Although the EU adopted strong measures against the Syrian central bank, these same measures could easily have been taken much faster outside the bureaucratic structures of the EU. More than 7,500 civilians have been killed by the Assad regime since the start of the uprising. It should not take an EU ministerial meeting to determine that European countries need to adopt tough economic sanctions— nor should the people of Syria have to wait.
It was announced earlier this month that an EU foreign ministers meeting would take place on February 27 to agree a new round of sanctions against Syria. Even while the security situation in Syria has deteriorated, the EU’s fatuous desire to fit everything neatly into bureaucratic timetables meant that no further economic sanctions were made until today.
Before today’s meeting, EU diplomats were hoping that the sanctions would include freezing the assets of Syria’s central bank and banning the import and export of phosphates, gold, precious metals, and diamonds. There was also talk of banning commercial aircraft between EU member states and Syria. However, as demonstrated today, some of these proposals were either watered down or omitted from the sanctions.
Today in Brussels, the foreign ministers of the EU member states:
- Banned the trade in gold, precious metals, and diamonds with Syrian public bodies and the central bank.
- Banned cargo flights operated by Syrian carriers, with the exception of mixed passenger and cargo flights.
- Froze the assets of the Syrian central bank within the EU.
- Established an asset freeze and a visa ban for seven ministers of the Syrian government who are associated with human rights violations.
Unsurprisingly, the EU could not come to an agreement on banning Syrian exports of phosphates or banning commercial aircraft between Europe and Syria.
Since phosphates are Syria’s sixth-largest export industry—with 40 percent of its trade done with EU member states—it should be included as part of any credible economic sanctions. It has been suggested that Greece, as one of the main consumers of Syrian phosphates for fertilizer purposes, blocked the proposal.
Earlier in the month, there was a suggestion of banning all commercial flights between EU member states and Syria. This proposal was dropped due to concerns about the difficulty such a ban would have on Westerners wanting to leave Syria. This is a valid concern, especially in order to avoid using military aircraft to carry out evacuations. However, banning commercial travel would send a powerful message and isolate the regime even further. Individual European countries should immediately issue travel guidance to their citizens stating that they have three weeks to leave the country by commercial means. After this point, countries should implement a full ban on commercial air travel to and from Syria. This does not have to be done inside the EU. In fact, since it pertains to the security of citizens of individual European countries, this is best left to the individual nations and not the EU.
Also, the EU ban on cargo flights does not go far enough because of the obvious loophole exempting cargo flights with passengers on board. Again, there is nothing stopping individual European countries from going one step further and implementing a complete ban on this activity outside the EU.
The watered-down sanctions agreed today in Brussels once again prove that individual European countries should not limit their options to what Brussels wants, because the common denominator approach will never be enough. It also shows why a common EU foreign policy will never work.