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European Support for Improving the Political and Humanitarian Situation in Syria

Austrian Parliament, 12 October 2018

International Parliamentary Conference for Common Foreign and Security Policy Seeks Answers and Solutions

Vienna (PK) – Today the “International Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)”, held at the Erste Campus as part of the Parliamentary Dimension of Austria’s EU Presidency, continued its two-day meeting, with today’s deliberations focusing on the issue of Syria. The fighting in Syria, ongoing now for over seven years, and its devastating effects have triggered what is probably one of the worst humanitarian crises since the Second World War, said Andreas Schieder, Chairman of the Austrian National Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee, in his introductory remarks. He in particular called on the international community to support the work of UN Special Envoy Steffan de Mistura and urged that every effort be made to prevent another looming disaster in the Idlib region.

Helga Schmid, Secretary-General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), expressed her conviction that for far too long now the focus has been on a military rather than a political solution. A constitutional committee must be formed to initiate the necessary political process, she urged. Jean-Louis de Brouwer (the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations) focused his remarks on the humanitarian aspects of the Syrian crisis. It is a daily struggle to provide access to aid and assistance to everybody in need. Political scientist Salam Kawakibi called on the international community to stop supporting dictatorships, as dictators only create the appearance of stability, while nothing is done to tackle the root causes of the Problems.

Helga Schmid: A political vision for a unified, free and inclusive Syria is needed.

Helga Schmid, Secretary-General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), said that with the tragedy in Syria she understands that many are frustrated that it has been impossible to finally put an end to the people’s suffering. The European Union has been active from the outset and has provided assistance and support at many levels. In April 2017, the Council adopted the EU Strategy for Syria, which defines strategic objectives in six core areas: Ending the war through a genuine, political transition; promoting a constructive, inclusive transition process in Syria; saving human lives by meeting the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable; promoting democracy, human rights and freedom of expression; promoting accountability for war crimes and strengthening the resilience of the Syrian People.

Ms. Schmid singled out the promotion of women's networks as a specific measure. It is also vital to support Syria’s neighbours Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, who are doing an incredible job in taking in refugees. At the moment there is no possibility for these people to return, as there is no clear political vision for Syria, she said. There is only one solution, Ms. Schmid stated emphatically, and that is a political one. An important step would be to convene a constitutional committee to pave the way towards a unified, free and inclusive Syria.

Jean-Louis De Brouwer reports on the immense humanitarian challenges posed by the Syrian crisis

In his speech, Jean-Louis de Brouwer (Director for Europe, Eastern Neighbourhood and Middle East at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations) highlighted the humanitarian aspects of the Syrian crisis. The European Union has been playing a key role in this area and is the largest donor. Since the beginning of the crisis, the EU has earmarked a total of € 5.5 billion for various measures. Overall, the humanitarian situation remains dramatic. Around 13.1 million people require humanitarian aid, and almost 3 million of them live in areas that are difficult for aid organisations to access. One challenge that has arisen in recent months is the spontaneous return of 700,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who also need humanitarian assistance. Neighbouring countries, which have taken in the majority of refugees, have also been the beneficiaries of considerable funding. Some 3.9 million Syrians are living in Turkey alone, the highest number of refugees in the world.

Salam Kawakibi criticises the lack of a uniform and consistent stance against dictatorships

In a very personal statement, political scientist and Executive Director of the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies in Paris Salam Kawakibi called on the EU and the entire international community to finally match their words with deeds. When Syrian refugees are asked which factors are crucial for their return to their homeland, they cite security, justice and political change. As long as the interests of the most important global policy actors remain so much at odds, there is no hope for a political solution, he fears. Syrian President Assad only recently said that one outcome of the crisis in Syria is that “the country now has a healthy and homogeneous society”. This statement, which unfortunately elicited no reaction from the international community, is reminiscent of 1930s Europe, Mr. Kawakibi pointed out concernedly. Also, Assad has more or less expropriated the refugees by issuing “Decree No. 10”, which has prevented people from returning and has continued the demographic shift initiated by Assad. In addition, Mr. Kawakibi lamented the gaping divide within Europe in its Syria policy. Arab countries also deserve democratic systems of government, which is why no support should be given to dictatorships in hopes of achieving the appearance of stability or curbing migration flows, Mr. Kawakibi forcefully urged.

In the subsequent debate, the wide variety of perspectives from the individual countries also came to the fore. However, the desire for a common and strong foreign policy for the European Union emerged as a common thread. If the EU had been united and more consistent at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, a great deal might have been prevented. (Continuation Conference) sue

PLEASE NOTE: Photos of this event can be found at the website of the Austrian Parliament at www.parlament.gv.at/SERV/FOTO/ARCHIV.

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