Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels
Catherine Ashton at the Council meeting in Brussels
© EU Council
On 14 May, the EU Foreign Ministers once again tightened the sanctions they had imposed on Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Their meeting in Brussels also focused on the Middle East peace process and the situation in Ukraine. State Secretary Emily Haber attended the meeting on behalf of Foreign Minister Westerwelle.
The EU Foreign Ministers have now imposed their 15th round of sanctions on the Syrian Government, as tensions in the country remain high. Three more people have been included in the ban on entering the EU and had their assets held in the EU frozen. The EU also added two more companies to its sanctions list, which means that their EU assets are now frozen and they are no longer permitted to do business within the EU.
EU High Representative Catherine Ashton insisted that the sanctions were aimed at the Syrian regime and not the civilian population. “As long as repression continues, we will keep up the pressure on those responsible,” she said. State Secretary Haber also declared that the diplomatic and political pressure on Syria would be increased, as the Syrian regime was ignoring obligations which it had to fulfil. She reported that everyone in the Council had agreed on the necessity of a political solution.
In the Council conclusions, the EU Foreign Ministers again call on the Syrian authorities to fully and immediately comply with Joint UN-League of Arab States Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan. The conclusions also explicitly state that the main responsibility for the ceasefire and the successful implementation of the plan lies with the Syrian authorities.
Middle East peace process
Another important topic discussed by the EU Foreign Ministers was the Middle East peace process. Their conclusions on the subject underline the urgent need for progress on the peace process and reaffirm the EU’s commitment to a two-state solution. At the same time, they express great concern at developments which are jeopardizing that solution – such as Israel’s accelerated construction of settlements in the Palestinian territories since 2010 and its continuing policy of forced eviction.
However, the conclusions also express the hope that recent developments may bring new impetus to the peace process. For example, the Foreign Ministers welcome a recent Palestinian-Israeli exchange of letters as well as the statement by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu indicating that his new Government would try to advance the peace process.
Debate on Ukraine
Developments in Ukraine were also high on the agenda at the Foreign Affairs Council. As State Secretary Haber put it, the debate centred on the “shadows” which had fallen over “democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine” over the last few months. All the EU countries, Haber said, saw Ukraine as a “pivotal country” which they wanted to see develop in a direction that would bring it closer to the EU.
That said, she went on, there would have to be a “change of policy” in the country before the EU could conclude an association agreement with it. Haber described that change of policy as including greater respect for the rule of law and humanitarian principles in dealings with the opposition, the conduct of free and fair elections, and advancement of the reform agenda.
The EU Foreign Ministers also adopted Council conclusions on Afghanistan and Somalia.
- Council conclusions on Somalia, 14 May 2012 PDF | 43 KB
- Council conclusions on Afghanistan, 14 May 2012 PDF | 101 KB
Last updated 14.05.2012