ISIS Europe attended the event “Beyond Arms Control: What Next for the EU in Syria?” organized by Madariaga – College of Europe Foundation. The speakers were Leila Vignal, Senior Lecturer of Geography at the University of Rennes-2, and Steven Blockmans, Head of EU Foreign Policy at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). The event was moderated by Pierre Defraigne, Executive Director, Madariaga-College of Europe Foundation, who opened up the discussion by pointing out that it is tragic that the crisis in Syria is no longer in the headlines.
Leila Vignal spoke about the disturbing fact that the media are focused on the international dimension of the conflict and therefore have lost track of what is happening in the country. She mentioned that the opposition in Syria is poorly equipped and that population of Syria struggles on daily basis. Moreover, Syrians have large-scale solidarity networks and political activist networks. She believes that a winner has emerged for now and it is Bashar al-Assad. She expressed a concern that Assad is probably the worst solution for Syria because having Assad in Syria means having Assad in addition to jihadists.
Leila Vignal believes that the situation in Syria is important for the European Union (EU) on legal grounds as well due to the fact that it is EU’s direct security interest not to have a disintegrated society in its neighbourhood, which she believes has already started due to the massive flow of refugees. Resettlement of refugees is a vital issue for the EU. Towards the end of her presentation, Leila Vignal made several suggestions for Geneva II. She believes that the opposition groups in Syria should be supported and that the war crimes that are taking place in Syria should be dealt with by the International Criminal Court. The EU should tackle the humanitarian issues by ending the siege of regions in Syria and should take the refugee issues seriously. The EU should welcome more refugees in Europe. She also mentioned that it is the responsibility of the EU to be clear on the outcome of the Geneva II. The chemical weapons process is only a background issue and not the solution leading towards peace.
Steven Blockmans believes that it is a moral and a legal obligation of the UN and the EU to promote peace and security in Syria. Not to mention that it is expected of the EU to stabilize its neighbourhood and that it has toolbox at its disposal to operate internationally. He said that EU faced the situation in Syria by imposing sanctions such as classic bans of luxury goods, wholesale embargo on oil, freezing assets of the Syrian National Bank and arms embargo. He also pointed out that EU should not be seen as a mediator in Syria because it is being pushed to the side lines by other important actors. Therefore, the EU should only support the initiative of the US and Russia. Furthermore, he pointed towards the fact that we cannot divorce Syria from the rest of the region because there is a spill over on Lebanon and Iraq.
Steven Blockmans also raises the question of whether we can expect Geneva II to produce results if we do not have Iran on board and if we take into an account the fact that the EU still perceives the Assad regime as the regime, which controls institutions in Syria and the Syrian army. Although there is no role for Assad in the future of Syria, he is important for Geneva II. and the resolution of the conflict.
In conclusion, Steven Blockmans agrees with Leila Vignal that EU is obliged to resolve the Syrian dispute and that it has critical interest in stabilizing Middle East in general because of the refugee issues and the need to stabilize its own neighbourhood. He made several points in this context. First, the best role for the EU is to support the role played by the US and Russia and to act as a guarantor of International Law. It should provide diplomatic support for the US and the military help if possible. The EU should play a leading role in supporting humanitarian action in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.