A Syrian opposition group told Euronews that Europe should exert further pressure on the Syrian regime after our network reported that several European Union countries – including Cyprus, Greece and Hungary – had recently reopened their embassies in Damascus.
“Unfortunately, Europe is currently not exerting any pressure, and it persists with a policy of waiting and managing the conflict with minimal losses through the issuance of sporadic statements and economic sanctions,” said the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces in a written statement to Euronews.
The coalition of non-Islamist opposition groups was formed in November 2012 in Doha. On the international stage, the coalition is recognised as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people by 120 states and organisations, including the US and the EU.
The coalition is headquartered in Egypt with offices in France, Germany, Qatar, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the US, according to its website.
In Syria however, the coalition cannot run for government, with only small government-sanctioned opposition groups allowed. Competition with President Bashar Assad, who was recently re-elected in a landslide, is seen by the opposition and Western nations as a sham aimed at giving the regime an air of legitimacy.
Since it erupted in March 2011, the Syrian civil war has killed half a million people and driven about 11 million from their homes.
EU denies ‘policy of waiting’
Reached by Euronews, the European Union External Action Service denied that the bloc failed to exert any pressure on the Syrian regime.
“This is not true. The EU is leading international efforts to keep Syria high on the international agenda, to keep up the pressure on the Assad regime, to promote a political solution, and to provide assistance to the many Syrians in need. We certainly do not follow a ‘policy of waiting’,” said an EU Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The bloc has adopted sanctions against the Assad regime ever since the decade-old conflict began. The sanctions list currently includes 283 people and 70 entities in Syria.
“The EU has been supporting the Syrian people since the beginning and remains by far the main donor for the Syria crisis. Throughout the conflict, we have provided substantive support to Syrian civil society organisations, as these actors will need to play a prominent role in post-conflict Syria, and in shaping and supporting the reconciliation process.”
“Collectively with its Member States, the EU has mobilised close to €25 billion since 2011 in humanitarian, development, economic and stabilisation assistance. This includes €3.7 billion announced by the EU last March at the V Brussels Conference on supporting the future of Syria and the Region,” the EU Spokesperson told Euronews.
‘Learn lessons from the past’
While Brussels has been adamant that any form of diplomatic normalisation with the Assad regime was unacceptable, at leave five EU member states currently have a diplomatic mission operating in some capacity in Syria, Euronews has learned.
Asked if Europe was headed to a normalisation of its diplomatic relations with Assad’s Syria, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces said it wasn’t the case, highlighting EU sanctions and a recent European Parliament resolution demanding accountability for war crimes committed by the regime.
“The European Union will not normalise its relations with the Assad regime. Any such step would constitute a humanitarian, legal and international scandal, and would represent a historical precedent that would risk opening the door to normalisation of a new kind, namely ‘the normalisation of the use of chemical weapons,'” the coalition told Euronews.
Earlier this month, the international chemical weapons watchdog told the UN Security Council that Syria had likely or definitely used chemical weapons in 17 cases, in contradiction with international law.
“Accepting the reopening of embassies in Damascus before reaching a political solution in line with UN Security Council resolutions is like accepting the opening of an embassy in Germany under Hitler or Italy under Mussolini,” the coalition went on.
“Europeans should learn lessons from the past,” it added.
Far-right push for normalisation
The Syrian opposition group noted Europe’s far-right and populist parties were pushing for the region’s re-engagement with the Syrian regime.
“All calls for re-engagement with Assad are coming from the far-right and extremist, populist and racist parties and movements, which also support [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, and generally stand against all the achievements of the West,” the coalition told Euronews.
Several delegations of far-right parties, including Germany’s AfD or France’s National Rally, have visited Syria in recent years. German media Deutsche Welle reported that the AfD trip intended to show that Syria was a “safe country of origin” for migrants to be sent back to.
“The European far right is less interested in effecting a fundamental change in the European position than in causing confusion,” the coalition told Euronews.