Some EU Member States, which withdrew their ambassadors from Syria four years ago, are now privately pushing for more communication with Syrian government and thus the need to have a presence in Damascus, according EUBulletin’s own sources in the European Union External Action Service (EEAS). This move is, however, strongly opposed by Britain and France, saying that President Bashar al-Assad no longer has any legitimacy to represent the country and its ‘rogue regime’. Yet, this dichotomy means that any prospective change in the EU policy towards Syria is still long way off.
The calls for a shift in EU’s approach to Assad regime have mainly come from, or have been supported by, namely Romania, Bulgaria, Austria, Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Romania, Bulgaria, Austria, Switzerland and Norway and Switzerland. While the EU has long been divided on the question how to deal with Syria and the Assad regime, the calls have become more pronounced since Islamic State (IS) advanced in Syria and the neighboring Iraq in summer 2014. Faced with the dilemma of ‘who is now actually the bigger evil’ – Assad or IS – and why, despite the imposed sanctions, Bashar al-Assad still remains in power, an increasing number of European experts and policy-makers are pointing out that the Syrian regime is unlikely to surrender any time soon and that in fact the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, is the equally feared by both of Damascus and Brussels.
As some EU diplomats privately admit, “Bashar is bound to stay in power for the near future and the jihadists returning from Syria post a much bigger threat to Europe than his unsavory regime.” In contrast, Britain and France see Assad’s departure as a precondition for any future negotiations and the removal of the sanctions, even though the collapse of his government has become less likely as the war keeps raging on. The EU first imposed sanctions on Assad and his circle in 2011 as his security services violently suppressed the generally peaceful demonstrations against the ruthless regime. The crisis has spiraled into a civil war, which over the last four years claimed more than 200,000 lives.