No change in sight for Syrian policy of post-election Europe

by editor | 13th May 2012 9:32 am

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The Europe of the coming decade was determined with the recent elections across the EU, but despite the changes in leadership, it appears there will be no change in the EU’s “Syrian policy,” which will likely continue in its current indeterminate state.
Political analysts speaking to Sunday’s Zaman said international Syria envoy Kofi Annan and the EU’s internal problems are the top two reasons for the European governments’ passive attitude towards the 15-month-long Syrian crisis.
EU governments had an important presence in the Friends of Syria group, which has been an alternative body looking to find a way out of the Syrian crisis due to the political blockage on the UN Security Council because of the dual vetoes of Russia and China, which prevented any resolute action on the Syrian conflict. France was one of the most involved EU governments in the Friends of Syria group and hosted the second round of talks between the groups in Paris and also co-chaired the first conference in Tunisia, along with Turkey.

Despite the media attention the Friends of Syria group received, it failed to meet the expectations of the Syrian opposition and regional countries, which are eyeing a solution that can quickly end the Syrian government crackdown.

The election period in Europe, especially in France, is a reference point when analysts mull over why there was no resolute approach coming from the EU in regards to the severity of the Syrian crisis.

European governments, especially France and the UK, were two of the main leaders when it came to the military intervention into Libya in 2011, ousting the 30-year-old dictatorship of now deceased leader Moammar Gaddafi. The Libyan military intervention was followed by the formation of another ad hoc international group, Friends of Libya.

Sinan Ülgen, head of the ?stanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), claims that while the Annan plan remains in effect, for EU governments to push for more robust measures is not possible. “Unless Annan openly declares his plan has failed, the support of European governments for the plan will linger,” he maintained.

Ülgen also warned the Turkish government to adjust itself to the current political conjuncture, which is exemplified in the wait-and-see approach of the international community for the Annan plan. Mentioning collective security principle under Article 5 of the NATO Charter for the protection of Turkish borders over an alleged border violation by Syrian regime forces, he said Turkey has raised the expectations of the Syrian opposition in terms of the measures that may be taken against the Assad regime, but will not be able to meet them. The 300-member observer mission to monitor a shaky truce in Syria is now in operation, with the auspices of the Annan-proposed peace plan. Meanwhile, the armed conflict between the Syrian regime and the opposition has continued in the restive Syrian towns last week. Wednesday, a bomb explosion occurred in the vicinity of a convoy of UN observers in the country, killing at least seven pro-government militiamen in Damascus.

Agreeing with Ülgen on the continuing validity of the Annan plan in Syria, Dr. Veysel Ayhan, an expert at the Middle Eastern Strategic Studies Center (ORSAM) and lecturer at the international relations department of Abant ?zzet Baysal University, said that the recent conflicts in Syria would make European governments likely to reconsider the support they gave to the Syrian opposition. “The Syrian opposition has acquired a military character; we cannot just call it a political opposition. This could lead to a weakening of the international legitimacy that the Syrian opposition managed to get,” Ayhan maintained.

He said this process of this weakening will speed up as European governments become busier each day with their internal economic problems and have little time to involve themselves with the Syrian issue. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy have negotiated major spending cuts in the public sector, but it is questionable that they would secure the same harmony with Socialist François Hollande, who replaced Sarkozy in the presidential elections last week with 51 per cent vote.

Kamer Kas?m, vice chairman of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), asserted that a lack of harmony between the leading EU governments regarding EU’s internal problems will likely risk a unified stance against the regime violence in Syria. “Should the French parliamentary elections in June also be won by Socialists, the harmony between France and Germany when it comes to dealing with the economic crisis could be in great danger,” Kas?m noted.

Claims have appeared that Hollande’s presidency will not bring a more active foreign policy to France in regards to Syria, because Sarkozy and his Foreign Minister Alain Juppé were already very staunch critics of the Assad regime, defending the policy of safe zones along the Syrian border for Assad-opponents to take shelter.

Yet, the president-elect’s recent remarks on the Syrian issue gave way to hopes among the Syrian opposition. While his presidential campaign was running last week, Hollande said he would support an UN-sanctioned military intervention in Syria. Assessing his statement, “Hollande and other socialist leaders have been very supportive. We can expect the next French government to be consistent,” Bassma Kodmani, spokesperson of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella organization for the Syrian opposition was quoted as saying by international media outlets on Monday.

Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian human rights activist and a research fellow at the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), was asked if more robust measures in regards to the Syrian question are likely to be rolled out by European governments after the election period, to which he said that it is what the Syrian people expect, especially from the French side. “Mr. Hollande’s previous statements on Syria were quite encouraging and we hope that he will push for a more proactive approach to dealing with Assad including support for the establishment of a safe haven and for targeted strikes against troops loyal to Assad,” stated Abdulhamid.

“It’s time to introduce a serious plan B,” he said. “Since the Annan plan has proved itself to be inefficient in halting the violence in Syria.”

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