European Scrutiny Committee Contents

20 Further amendments to EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime








COM(12) 78

Council Decision amending Council Decision 2011/782/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against Syria

Council Regulation (EU) amending Regulation (EU) No.36/2012 concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Syria

Council Decision amending Council Decision of 2 September 2011 partially suspending the application of the Cooperation Agreement between the European Economic Community and the Syrian Arab Republic

Legal base(a)  Article 29 TEU; unanimity

(b)  Article 215 TFEU; QMV

(c)  Article 207 and 218(9)TFEU; QMV

DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationEM and Minister's letter of 24 February 2012
Previous Committee ReportsNone; but see (33635-7) —: HC 428-l (2010-12), chapter 12 (8 February 2012); (33515) — and (33516) —: HC 428-lxiv (2010-12), chapter 15 (14 December 2011); (33213) — and (33214) —: HC 428-xxxviii (2010-12), chapter 19 (19 October 2011); (33160) 14410/11 and (33168) —: HC 428-xxxvii (2010-12), chapter 20 (12 October 2011); (33072) 13474/11 and (33073) 13475/11: HC 428-xxxv (2010-12), chapter 16 (7 September 2011); (33101) — (33102) 13640/11 (33103) 13643/11: HC 428-xxxv (2010-12), chapter 19 (7 September 2011); (32933-36) —: HC 428-xxxi (2010-12), chapter 11 (29 June 2011); and (32747) — and (32748) —: HC 428-xxvi (2010-12), chapter 11 (11 May 2011)
Discussion in Council27 February 2012
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


20.1 In response to what the UN now estimates as several thousand deaths and associated repression since March 2011, the EU has thus far implemented 11 rounds of restrictive measures against the Assad regime (the details of which are set out in our previous Reports).[135]

20.2 Last December, measures adopted under Council Decision 2011/782/CFSP prohibited:

—  EU investment/construction of new electricity power stations in Syria, including financing or offering technical support;

—  Member States offering long term (7+ years), public or private, financial support for trade: including through export credits, guarantees and insurance. And a call that MS act with restraint in the short and medium term;

—  selling or purchasing Syrian or Syrian guaranteed public bonds;

—  giving support to the regime to monitor the internet and communications, including a ban on selling, supplying, transferring or exporting equipment or software that could be used by the regime for monitoring;

—  European credit and financial institutions opening new branches of subsidiaries in Syria and Syrian institutions doing the same in Europe, including new investments in financial institutions within the EU;

—  supplying insurance / reinsurance to the Syrian Government or its public bodies, with exemptions for health, travel and vehicle insurance;

—  the sale of key equipment to the Syrian oil industry.

20.3 Additional persons were subjected to an asset freeze and visa ban including military personnel responsible for the military action in Homs and the Syrian Ministers of Finance and Economy and Trade. A number of additional entities were also subjected to the asset freeze, notably the Syrian General Petroleum Company (GPC), Sytrol, Al Furat Oil, the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) and five related entities.

20.4 The means to implement these measures (a Council Regulation, Council Implementing Decision and Council Implementing Regulation) took some time to be finalised, leading to a scrutiny over-ride. The Committee was not minded to take issue with this, but asked the Minister, when he submitted them for scrutiny, to provide the House with his assessment of where matters stood with: the Arab League's endeavours to broker a solution to the violence and instability; at the UN Security Council; and at the UN Human Rights Council — these all being highlighted in the Conclusions adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council when it adopted the main Council Decision in December.

The Minister's letter of 6 February 2012

20.5 The Minister explained that:

—  on 22 January the Arab League agreed that that Arab League Plan should be implemented in full, including an immediate end to all violence and President Assad to delegate full powers to his first deputy and allow a political transition in Syria;

—  the Government fully supported the Arab League's plan and were seeking a strong UN resolution which backs the Arab League;

—  on 28 January the work of the Arab League observer mission was suspended due to an escalation of violence in Syria, which he described as a damning indication of President Assad's failure to halt the violence;

—  on 27 January Morocco introduced a draft Security Council resolution, which would support the Arab League's peace plan, followed on 31 January by a briefing to the Security Council on the situation in Syria and the Arab League initiative by the Prime Minister of Qatar and the Arab League Secretary-General;

—   the Foreign Secretary made a strong intervention in support of tough action by the UN, a theme echoed by US Secretary of State Clinton and French foreign minister Juppé;[136]

—  the UK had been clear that the UNSC needed to take firm action to stop the continuing repression in Syria and would continue to work closely with its international partners to this end.

20.6 The UN Department of Public Information announced that on 4 February the Russian Federation and China vetoed a Security Council draft resolution that would have demanded that all parties in Syria — both Government forces and armed opposition groups — stop all violence and reprisals. As they reported, "supported by the 13 other Council members, the text would have expressed grave concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria and profound concern over the deaths of thousands of people. It would have condemned widespread gross violations of human rights and 'all violence, irrespective of where it comes from', while demanding that the Syrian Government implement, 'without delay', the elements of a plan set out by the League of Arab States on 22 January."

20.7 The UN News Centre and Department of Public Information also reported that:

—  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced deep regret at the Security Council's failure to agree on a resolution, calling it "a great disappointment to the people of Syria and the Middle East, and to all supporters of democracy and human rights", which "undermines the role of the United Nations and the international community in this period when the Syrian authorities must hear a unified voice calling for an immediate end to its violence against the Syrian people"; noted that it had "become even more urgent" for the international community to redouble its efforts to seek a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system; and pledged the UN's willingness to step up efforts to "find a peaceful and durable solution which will bring the violence and the killing in Syria to a halt";

—  UN General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser urged the Arab League to continue its efforts to find a solution and called on President Bashar al-Assad to "listen to the voices and aspirations of his people";

—  Russia's Ambassador said the text as it stood "sent an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties", with no call on the Syrian opposition to distance itself from extremist groups; a solution to the Syrian crisis must be "objective" and said some Council members had actively undermined opportunities for a settlement and pressed for "regime change"; Russia was actively involved in diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis and, to that end, the country's Foreign Minister would lead a delegation to Damascus on 7 February for talks with President Bashar al-Assad;

—  China's Ambassador voiced disappointment that the draft resolution did not incorporate amendments proposed by Russia, which China supported; said that an "undue emphasis" on pressuring Syria's authorities would prejudice the result of dialogue and only complicate the issue rather than ending the fighting; and that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria must be fully respected;

—  the Councils' three other permanent members — France, the United Kingdom and the United States — were outraged by the rejection of the text, believing it represented the best compromise position.[137] 

20.8 On 4 February, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission issued the following statement:

"We deeply regret that due to the renewed veto of the Russian Federation and China the Security Council was unable to support the call of the League of Arab States for an inclusive, Syrian-led political process conducted in an environment free from violence. The EU continues to support all efforts of the League of Arab States and calls once more on all members of the UNSC to assume their responsibilities. The time has come to speak with one voice and demand an end to the bloodshed and speak out for a democratic future for Syria. We condemn the ongoing bloodshed and stand by the Syrian people against the repressive regime. We call on President Assad to end immediately the killing of civilians, withdraw the Syrian army from besieged towns and cities and step aside in order to make room for a peaceful transition for the sake of his country."[138]

20.9 On 6 February the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House in which he noted that the Government would:

—  continue its strong support for the Arab League;

—  seek to widen the international coalition of nations seeking a peaceful and lasting resolution in Syria, via a new Arab-led group of Friends of Syria;

—  intensify contact with members of the Syrian opposition;

—  maintain its strong focus at the United Nations;

—  increase pressure through the European Union, with a view to agreeing further measures, beyond the 11 rounds of EU sanctions already agreed, at the 27 February Foreign Affairs Council;

—  work with others to ensure that those responsible for crimes in Syria are held to account, including at the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in March;

—  use its remaining channels to the Syrian regime to make clear its abhorrence of violence "that is utterly unacceptable to the civilised world." [139]

20.10 We reported all this in an endeavour to set the EU's actions in the wider context, looked forward to receiving details of any further proposed EU measures in due course, and in the meantime cleared the Council Regulation, Council Implementing Regulation and Council Implementing Decision.

20.11 We also again drew these latest measures to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee.[140]

The further draft Council Decision and Council Regulation and the Council Decision

20.12 The draft Council Decision imposes further restrictive measures against Syria; the draft Council Regulation implements the elements of the draft Council Decision that fall under EU competence; and the Council Decision extends the partial suspension of the application the Cooperation Agreement between the European Economic Community and the Syrian Arab Republic embodied in the Council Decision of 2 September 2011.

20.13 The measures imposed by the Council Decision include:

—  a prohibition on the trade and transportation of gold and precious metals, as well as of diamonds, to, from, or for the Government of Syria, the Central Bank of Syria, and persons and entities acting for them;

—  a ban on cargo flights operated by Syrian carriers;

—  an asset freeze on the Central Bank of Syria.

20.14 The Council Decision also designates more individuals under the asset freeze and travel ban, and removes one individual who no longer meets the grounds for designation.

20.15 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 24 February 2012, Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) explains that:

—  the newly designated individuals and entities include military and security personnel responsible for giving orders authorising the use of lethal force against Syrian protestors, a businessman facilitating the repression, and entities providing financial support to the regime;

—  the extension of the partial suspension of EEC/Syria is in order to implement the ban on gold, precious metals and diamonds.

The Government's view

20.16 The Minister goes on to note that the Syrian authorities continue to ignore the urgent appeals made by a number of parties, including the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 16 February, which supported the Arab League's plan for a Syrian-led solution to the crisis, the United Nations Security Council in a Presidential statement, numerous States, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Secretaries-General of the League of Arab States and of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, to cease the violent repression of civilians.

20.17 He also reiterates the long-established elements of the Government's approach, viz:

—  strong UK support for the October European Council Conclusions "to impose further and more comprehensive measures against the regime as long as the repression of the civilian population continues";

—  sanctions should be targeted in support of a specific policy; be proportionate, avoiding as far as possible any negative impact on the civilian population; and form part of a wider strategy and mix of measures in relation to a particular country;

—  as sanctions alone will not elicit political change, the Government will continue to pursue other activities, with international players as appropriate, to help realise change in Syria.

The Minister's letter of 24 February 2012

20.18 The Minister says that, given the fast moving and serious nature of events in Syria, it is important to adopt the texts giving these measures legal effect with the utmost speed. He also expresses his regret that, due to the length of the negotiations, final texts emerged so late that he finds himself having to agree to the their adoption before the Committee has had an opportunity to scrutinise the documents.

20.19 The Minister goes on to express his continuing belief that these further actions by the EU will increase the pressure on President Assad's regime to put an end to the violence in Syria. He also notes that on 16 February UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of supporting the Arab League's plan for a Syrian-led solution to the crisis, pointing out that the resolution was co-sponsored by 72 countries and supported by 137 members of the Assembly, "clearly demonstrating the international community's condemnation of the Syrian regime's actions and its intention to hold to account those responsible for the ongoing atrocities."

20.20 The Minister also recalls that the Prime Minister and others have stated that President Assad has lost legitimacy and should now step aside, and says that the Foreign Secretary continues to make clear that he is appalled by the continuing violence being perpetrated against civilians who have been protesting peacefully.

20.21 On 27 February:

—  the Council said that, given the Syrian regime's continued use of violence against civilians, it had reinforced restrictive measures against the Syrian regime. It confirmed that: trade in gold, precious metals and diamonds with Syrian public bodies and the central bank will no longer be permitted; cargo flights operated by Syrian carriers will not have access to EU airports, with the exception of mixed passenger and cargo flights; the assets of the Syrian central bank within the EU have been frozen, while ensuring that legitimate trade can continue under strict conditions; and seven Syrian government ministers who are associated with the human rights violations have been subjected to an asset freeze and a visa ban;

—  the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, said:

"Today's decisions will put further pressure on those who are responsible for the ruthless campaign of repression in Syria. The measures target the regime and its ability to conduct the appalling violence against civilians. As long as the repression continues, the EU will keep imposing sanctions."[141]

20.22 On 27 February, the Council also adopted conclusions, in which it:

—  said it was increasingly appalled by the regime's ruthless campaign of repression against the civilian population and its systematic and widespread violation of human rights, the reports of the brutal attacks by the Syrian armed forces in Homs and the numerous civilian fatalities;

—  underlined that those responsible will be held accountable for their actions;

—  reiterated its call for President Assad to end immediately the killing of civilians, withdraw the Syrian army from besieged towns and cities and step aside;

—  condemned all killings of unarmed civilians, including three journalists in Homs, and reiterated the Syrian authorities' responsibility to guarantee the safety, and allow unimpeded access, of journalists to carry out their vital role without fear of violence or repression;

—  called on the Syrian authorities immediately to alleviate the suffering of the population, respect and protect the wounded and sick, guarantee unhindered access to the medical care and refrain from intimidation of those providing medical assistance;

—  welcomed the first meeting of the Group of Friends of the Syrian people and the outcome as reflected in the Chair's conclusions;

—  welcomed the appointment of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, as the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and Arab League on the Syrian crisis;

—  professed the EU's readiness to step up its engagement with all representative members of Syrian opposition that adhere to non violence, inclusiveness and democratic values;

—  urged the Syrian opposition to set up a representative coordination mechanism under the auspices of the Arab League for working towards an orderly and peaceful transition to a Syria based on these principles;

—  deeply regretted that the UN Security Council was unable to support the call of the Arab League for an inclusive, Syrian-led political process conducted in an environment free from fear and violence, and calls once more on all members of the UNSC to assume their responsibilities;

—   welcomed the 16 February UN General Assembly resolution on Syria;

—  looked forward to the next debate of the UN Human Rights Council on Syria on 12 March;

—  professsed itself appalled by the main findings of the report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria and reaffirmed that there should be no impunity for the perpetrators of such alleged crimes against humanity and other gross violations of human rights;

—  called on the international community to join its efforts to target those responsible for or associated with the violent repression and those who support or benefit from the regime;

—  welcomed the important decisions taken by the Arab League on 12 February to resolve the crisis in Syria, its strong commitment and leadership and its decision to increase economic pressure on the Syrian regime, and the commitment of the participants of the Friends of Syria Group to take steps to apply and enforce restrictive measures and sanctions on the Syrian regime and its supporters;

—  reaffirmed its support to the Syrian people and their aspirations for a democratic Syria that is open, pluralistic and respectful of the rights of all its communities.[142]

20.23 Speaking after the Council meeting, Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR) said that more than 8,300 people have now been killed in the terrible circumstances in Syria. She declared that there was strong support for the humanitarian work being undertaken, the work of the EU institutions and the Member States, real support for the Arab League plan and "especially a recognition that in Kofi Annan as the envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League, we have somebody of enormous ability who we hope will be able to swiftly make a significant difference to finding a ceasefire and a political way through." She went on to say:

"We need to get the Assad regime to stop killing the population, and we need to find ways to ensure that comes about as swiftly as possible. Our view is very straightforward: you cannot lead your people, murder them and remain in leadership."

20.24 In terms of the wording in the conclusions, the HR said that the EU was very clear that it recognizes the Syrian National Council as an interlocutor, and continued thus:

"The discussion was around how to phrase and word that so to give maximum effect to what we meant. And it links very much back to the discussions that took place in Tunis on Friday, so you'll find that there is a common view. It's important that we're able to talk with opposition groups. We urge as much as possible the coordination and the consolidation of opposition groups. Other groups have come to talk to us in Brussels and we'll continue to talk to them, but it was extremely important to hear the views of the National Council, which is an interlocutor for us."[143]


20.25 We continue to report these measures in an endeavour to set the EU's actions in the wider context, and again draw them to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee

20.26 We also clear the draft Council Decision, draft Council Regulation and Council Decision, and do not object to the Minister having agreed to their adoption prior to scrutiny on this occasion and in these circumstances.

135   See headnote. Back

136   The Minister enclosed a copy of the Foreign Secretary's intervention, which we reproduced at the Annex to chapter 12 of our most recent Report, and is available at Back

137   See and Back

138   Available at Back

139   See HC Deb, 6 February 2012, cols 23-42; the full text is also available at Back

140   See headnote: (33635-7) -: HC 428-l (2010-12), chapter 12 (8 February 2012). Back

141   See for the text of these statements. Back

142   The full text is available at  Back

143   The full text of the HR's remarks is available at Back

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Prepared 8 March 2012