After a slow start, Europeans led the way in isolating the Syrian regime, but the sanctions it imposed have not yet stopped the ongoing crackdown on the opposition.
Europeans initially hoped to persuade President Bashar al-Assad to show restraint and to promote democratic reform. However, after the demonstrations that began in Daraa from mid-March quickly spread nationwide and the regime responded with violent repression rather than reform, EU member states eventually called on Assad to step down. The specific context of Syria and fears of regional conflagration made the prospect of more robust interventions unrealistic and action therefore focused on sanctions. It took until May before the EU took its first concrete measures: a travel ban, asset freeze, arms embargo, and the suspension of development co-operation and of the pending Association Agreement (although this was not particularly courageous since Syria was not going to ratify it anyway). France – which had attempted to re-establish good relations with Syria under Nicolas Sarkozy – was at the forefront in condemning the regime from the end of April. Italy and Greece, which had oil and banking contracts with the regime, were more cautious.
After May, the EU maintained a consensus around a progressive reinforcement of sanctions, which led to more debilitating measures against the oil sector in September and against trade, banks and telecommunications (including the freezing of EIB loans) in November and December. In October and November, various EU leaders started openly meeting the opposition leaders abroad and passed a resolution at the UNHRC condemning the regime. All this was done in co-ordination with the US and Turkey and with increasing pressure coming from the Arab League, whose actions and proposals were welcomed by the EU. However, Europeans failed to persuade Russia to endorse a UNSC resolution that could make sanctions more stringent and effective. By the end of 2011, Assad was almost completely isolated but nevertheless remained in power in Damascus.
|Leaders: France - Germany - Netherlands - United Kingdom|
|Slackers: Estonia - Greece - Romania|