LIFTING THE SYRIAN EMBARGO – THE WEIGHT OF THE GYMNICH DISCUSSIONS

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Following discussions this weekend, it seems we are still no further ahead in figuring out the solution to the Syrian embargo due to be lifted in June of this year.

On the 22nd and 23rd of this month,  an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers took place in Dublin Castle with the intent of discussing not only the Syrian embargo but the formation and adaptation of long term strategic foreign policy issues. Arguably, very little if anything was achieved from this meeting as we hear, yet again, that our EU Foreign Ministers are unable to reach a united front on how best to tackle the crisis we now see placed before us.

Though we were aware that this meeting was to be solely a platform for open discussion and not necessarily one for forming concrete conclusions on how best to act, it is incredibly disappointing that a person could predict the outcome of the meeting before any discussions even took place. The division of thought and opinions coming from the ministers as they represented each of their Member States remained consistent throughout and it seems that none were willing to compromise on their position in order to achieve a common stance on the embargo.

The French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, as well as the British Foreign Secretary William Hague, are adamant that arming the Syrian rebels is the best way forward – that this would not just give vital empowerment to the people but also add pressure to the current President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, which in turn would force him to begin significant peace talks and negotiations with the rebels. Their determination to assist the rebels is so strong that there has even been mention of action taking place regardless of whether or not they have Europe’s support. For the embargo to be lifted unanimous agreement has to firstly be achieved by all 27 Member States but it remains to be seen whether or not France and the UK will disregard this and act as they see fit anyway should a compromise not be achieved.

This disregard is a very real possibility as not all present at the meeting felt that the proposed actions from Fabius and Hague were the correct approach to helping those fighting the Assad regime. We are told of how there is quite a large amount of skepticism revolving around the idea and that countries such as Germany and Austria are very much against lifting the embargo because of a fear that this would open the gates for Islamist militants to obtain weapons which would increase the violence and conflict currently raging throughout Syria.

In response to this, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, mentioned that although he recognises the genuine reasons behind France and the UK wanting to arm the Syrian rebels, he fears the negotiations sparked that they speak of would not be between Assad and the rebels but more realistically between the President and his supporters. Assad would merely approach Russia and Iran for even more weapons, thus the war not only continues, but grows. Carl Bildt, the Foreign Minister for Sweden, spoke openly of how giving more arms to a “conflict that is already much too armed” would have disastrous consequences and hinder progress rather than aid it.

Speaking on behalf of the Irish government, Eamon Gilmore spoke of how Ireland would follow the reasoning of Germany, Austria and Sweden before the UK and France. “If you put more arms into the situation you increase the militarisation of it and you move away from trying to find a political solution…. the further militarisation of the environment in Syria would certainly not be helpful. The more guns that go into Syria… the more casualties there will be.” He also spoke of the urgency of finding a feasible and effective solution to the “slaughter and bloodshed taking place in Syria.”

Thus we await to see how the EU shall approach the situation of the Syrian embargo, described by Catherine Ashton as being one of incredible “delicacy.” Should the EU not be able to form a united plan of action, could this lead to countries branching off in their support of the rebels? If so, would this genuinely help those in need? We can imagine quite easily that divided action plans lead to divided outcomes and hopefully this would not divide the power and force of the EU in assisting with aid to the terrorised citizens of Syria. As June quickly approaches, we must remember that the most progressive way forward for Europe is to compromise. The eerily apt words “united we stand, divided we fall” come to mind.

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