European Scrutiny Committee Contents

10 EU-Syria relations



+ ADDS 1-4

COM(08) 853

Draft Council Decision on the signature and provisional application of certain provisions of a Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement between the European Community and its Member States and the Syrian Arab Republic

Draft Council Decision on the conclusion of a Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement between the European Community and its Member States and the Syrian Arab Republic

Legal baseArticles 300 and 310 EC; unanimity
Document originated12 December 2008
Deposited in Parliament22 December 2008
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationEM of 15 July 2009
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in Council15 September 2009 General Affairs and External Relations Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared, but further information requested


10.1 Signature and conclusion of a Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement would form the legal basis for the EU's relations with Syria. The agreement sets out the general principles governing the relationship between the EU and Syria. These include political dialogue, human rights, counter proliferation, trade and migration. The Agreement also establishes an Association Council to oversee implementation. This would complete the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area in 2010 as set up in the 1995 Barcelona Declaration (which aimed at strengthening economic, security and social relations with Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Lebanon).[24]

The Government's view

10.2 In her Explanatory Memorandum of 15 July 2009, the Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead) notes that talks began on an Association Agreement (AA) between Syria and the EU in 1998, "although these progressed slowly." Moving to 2003, the Minister says:

"the main disagreements were on human rights and non-proliferation, particularly as language on non-proliferation had only become standard in November that year. The Commission and Syria finally initialled the draft text of the AA on 17 October 2004 and the agreement then required signature. However due to the political context at the time, including Syrian involvement in Lebanon, the EU decided that a further deepening of the EU/Syria relationship needed to wait for a positive Syrian contribution to regional stability."

10.3 This took some five years; however:

"Since 2008 Syria has taken positive steps which go some way to address previous political considerations. These include beginning indirect peace talks with Israel, establishing diplomatic relations with Lebanon and sending an Ambassador to Baghdad. Consequently, under the French Presidency, efforts were made to re-open negotiations with Syria on the text of the AA. This followed President Sarkozy's decision to invite President Assad Bashar to the Union of the Mediterranean Summit in July 2008 and to visit Damascus in September 2008. After several meetings between Commission and Syrian negotiators, a revised AA text was initialled in December 2008."

10.4 The Minister then describes the agreement thus:

"The proposed revised Association Agreement (AA) between the EU and Syria will establish a closer relationship within the context of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership launched by the 1995 Barcelona Declaration. The proposed AA is similar in pattern to other Euro- Mediterranean Association Agreements. It contains far-reaching and substantial provisions in a number of areas including: non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, comprehensive tariff dismantlement on agricultural products, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, trade facilitation, right of establishment and services, government procurement, intellectual property rights and trade dispute settlement mechanisms. The provisional application of trade and trade related provisions is also foreseen.

"Through signature of the draft Association Agreement, the EU can signal its intent to engage constructively with Syria. It will help to build confidence, develop dialogue and will encourage further positive steps by Syria. This progress will be facilitated by regular political dialogue at all levels and co-operation across the full range of political, environmental, economic and social issues, including on terrorism. This can additionally contribute to peace and security in the region and will also enable the EU and Syria to discuss all topics of mutual concern, including human rights and democratic principles, terrorism and non-proliferation. An EU-Syria Association Council will be established to take all appropriate measures to facilitate cooperation and is aimed at supporting economic and political reform in Syria, preparing Syria for integration into the world economy and promoting regional peace and integration.

"In addition to this political signal, the agreement will also benefit the UK and the EU in general. The proposed agreement will stimulate trade and economic relations between Syria, the EU and our Mediterranean partners, through the progressive establishment, over a maximum period of twelve years, of a free-trade area between the European Community and Syria. Inclusion of Syria will be the last piece in building the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area in 2010 as set up in the Barcelona Declaration. The Barcelona Declaration underlines the EU's priority to strengthen its security, economic and social relations with the partners of the southern Mediterranean Basin. Agreements with Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories (PLO), Jordan and Lebanon have already been signed.

"Finally, the text on the two essential element clauses on non-proliferation and human rights has also been agreed. Respect for the principles of democracy and human rights will constitute an essential element of the Agreement. Additionally, in line with the Council Decision of 17 November 2003 on the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the Agreement also contains as an essential element a commitment to fulfilling existing obligations under disarmament and non-proliferation instruments. If Syria does not fulfil its obligations in either of these two areas the EU can decide — if all Member States agree — to suspend part or all of the Association Agreement.

"As a result of the steps taken by Syria, a number of other States, including the UK, have begun to increase engagement with Syria. Following a series of meetings between the Foreign Secretary and the Syrian Foreign Minister, the Syrian Foreign Minister visited London in October 2008 and the Foreign Secretary visited Syria in November 2008. UK policy is to urge Syria to act as a force for stability across several regional issues of concern: Lebanon, arms transfers, counter-proliferation, counter-terrorism, Middle East Peace Process and human rights. Our continued engagement with Syria remains primarily directed at encouraging further substantial progress on these issues. The Association Agreement is part of this."

10.5 On the key consideration of human rights, the Minister says:

"Respect for the democratic principles and fundamental rights established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an essential element of the proposed agreement, breach of which by one party would allow the other party to the agreement to take action to suspend or terminate the agreement. It is envisaged that the agreement should lead to improvements in the human rights position in Syria."

10.6 Finally, looking ahead, the Minister says that, following translation and technical examination of the draft Agreement by Jurist Linguists, the earliest date for possible signature of the draft Association Agreement (AA) by all Member States and Syria is likely to be the 14 September 2009 General Affairs and External Relations Council; that after signature, the trade aspects of the draft AA will come into force; and that the political elements will do so once all 27 Member States have ratified the agreement.


10.7 No questions arise about the nature of the Agreement or the process, but we are nonetheless reporting these developments to the House because of the importance of the political context.

10.8 We now clear the documents. However, the Minister says nothing about how the Agreement will be ratified in this country, or when she expects this to take place. Nor does she indicate whether continuation of the improvements in Syrian behaviour is likely to determine the timing of ratification, or whether she sees this as essentially a bureaucratic process. We should accordingly be grateful if the Minister would write to us to clarify these matters, once signature of the Agreement has taken place.

24   See for the full background to the Barcelona Declaration. Back

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