Documents considered by the Committee on 21 July 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


22 An EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Da'esh threat

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; further information requested
Document detailsJoint Communication: Elements for an EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Da'esh threat
Legal base
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Document numbers(36664), 6031/15, JOIN(15) 2

Summary and Committee's conclusions

22.1 This is not the first time that the EU has endeavoured to articulate a comprehensive approach to the Syria crisis (see paragraphs 0.18 below for details).

22.2 But events moved so quickly between the end of 2013 and last summer that, come October 2014, the Foreign Affairs Council had tasked the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the Commission with producing this successor.[ 210] It flows from the response of the August 2014 European Council to the deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in Iraq and in Syria as a result of the occupation of parts of their territory by the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the indiscriminate killings and human rights violations perpetrated by this and other terrorist organisations, by describing the creation of an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, and the Islamist-extremist export of terrorism on which it is based, as a direct threat to the European security, and saying that the European Union was determined to contribute to countering the threat posed by ISIL and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.[ 211]

22.3 The Joint Communication, Elements for an EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Da'esh threat,[ 212] was accordingly published on 5 February 2015. It focuses on three key areas:

OBJECTIVES COMMON TO SYRIA, IRAQ AND OTHER AFFECTED AREAS:

·  regional engagement;

·  countering ISIL as a terrorist organisation and its narrative;

·  stemming the flow of foreign terrorist fights, funds and arms to ISIL;

·  preventing regional spill-over and enhancing border security;

·  humanitarian aid; and

·  building resilience and capacity.

COUNTRY SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES FOR SYRIA:

·  Work towards political transition;

·  Strengthening the moderate opposition and civil society;

·  Promoting human rights and ensuring accountability; and

·  Preparing for long term recovery and stabilisation.

COUNTRY SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES FOR IRAQ:

·  Supporting Iraqi government efforts to be more inclusive;

·  Strengthening regional and local administration;

·  Supporting basic services and economic development; and

·  Supporting peace building and national reconciliation.

22.4 The Minister for Europe's (Mr David Lidington) approach to this proposal is summarised in the "Background" section below. [ 213]

The previous Committee's assessment

22.5 Most analysts took the view that denying it territory was the key to defeating the ISIL phenomenon; and the EU had no role therein.

22.6 In other ways, however, there was no doubt that the EU had a major role to play in securing long-term stability. The challenge, as the Minister rightly highlighted, was to ensure that "the right framework is in place to ensure that initiatives are targeted and add value to the efforts of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL" and that existing EU activity to address the problems in Iraq, Syria and the region was "brought together as part of a single strategy with a clear purpose".

22.7 On the other hand, as the European Committee resolved after having debated this Joint Communication's precursor, that "in responding to the Syrian crisis, the EU should focus its efforts on those areas in which it has expertise, complementing broader national and international efforts".[ 214]

22.8 As its title suggests, this Joint Communication was the first stage. Even so, it was already sitting alongside an existing related EU Strategy, about which the Minister had said very little. Moreover, it awaited reinforcement and further fleshing-out in Council Conclusions; and, then, an implementation plan. The Minister had set out what he wanted to see; in the first instance, the House needed to see whether he achieved this.

22.9 The previous Committee therefore asked the Minister to write immediately after the 16 March Foreign Affairs Council, so that it could report the outcome to the House before it dissolved (the Committee's last meeting being on 24 March). In that letter, it asked the Minister to articulate clearly how the Council Conclusions met his objectives. In sum, the previous Committee wished to know what an EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Da'esh threat then looked like.

22.10 The previous Committee also asked:

·  the Minister to explain more clearly how he saw this new EU strategy dove-tailing with the external dimensions of the EU's counter-terrorism current and prospective work; and

·  what the plans then were for the publication of the implementation plan for any new EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Da'esh threat.

22.11 In the meantime, the previous Committee retained the Joint Communication under scrutiny.[ 215]

22.12 The then (and current) Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) confirmed on 24 March that the 16 March Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) adopted the Joint Communication, as drafted, and that it and the Council Conclusions — which set out the context for the Strategy and reiterate earlier related Councils Conclusions from October 2014, December 2014 and February 2015 — now constitute the EU Regional Strategy for Syria, Iraq and ISIL/Da'esh. He notes in particular that the Conclusions make clear that the Regional Strategy will be coordinated with and complementary to the efforts of Member States, and international organisations and partners. He also highlights a number of specific points that reflect and complement UK policy (see paragraphs 22.20-22.21 below for details).

22.13 Principal among these are:

—  ISIL: EU efforts to tackle ISIL will be coordinated with the "Global Coalition to Counter ISIL" through its working groups and will focus on areas where the EU can add most value. Whilst the Regional Strategy outlines the overall framework for the EU's comprehensive response to Syria and Iraq, the EU's "Syria and Iraq CT and Foreign Fighters strategy identifies specific areas for CT activity in the region, with a focus on countering the foreign fighters phenomenon; both documents are closely linked;

—  Syria: though essentially a development on the 2013 Joint Communication, "Towards a comprehensive EU approach", the Regional Strategy accordingly acknowledges the changing situation on the ground, including the rise of extremist groups such as ISIL. To tackle these threats there must be an inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspiration of the Syrian people and those moderate opposition groups who represent them; the repressive and violent methods used by Assad to resist calls for democratic change has enabled extremist groups to flourish; there is no place for Assad in Syria's future;

—  Iraq: the UK worked to ensure that the Regional Strategy's objectives for Iraq are clearly aligned with the Government of Iraq's agreed government programme, which includes commitments to political reform, reconciliation between communities and the respect for human rights; it will thus create opportunities for the EU to assist with security and justice sector reform, economic reform and development, as well as anti-corruption efforts and enhanced public financial management;

—  Joint Council, EEAS and Commission monitoring of implementation will include six-monthly progress updates, about the first of which the Government will update the Committee.

22.14 We look forward to receiving the first such update as soon as it is produced, with the Minister's views thereon.

22.15 In the meantime, we deeply regret the fact that — despite our predecessors explaining why they wished to consider these developments at their last meeting before dissolution — the Minister and his officials took eight days to provide a letter on a straightforward matter, so that it did not arrive until after the meeting had taken place. Moreover, the letter contains no word of explanation or apology.

22.16 We accordingly trust that the Minister will wish to ensure that systems are now put in place to ensure that this does not happen in future, as the basis of what we hope will be a generally more constructive engagement with the scrutiny process. In the first instance, we would like a swift explanation as to why the previous Committee's reasonable request was not met.

22.17 In the meantime, we shall continue to retain the Joint Communication under scrutiny.

Full details of the documents: Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council — Elements for an EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Da'esh threat: (36664), 6031/15, JOIN(15) 2.

Background

22.18 In 2013, the Commission and European External Action Service (EEAS) Joint Communication "Towards a comprehensive EU approach to the Syrian crisis"[ 216] reviewed the conflict and its consequences both in Syria and its neighbouring countries in what by then were depressingly familiar terms and proposed a comprehensive EU response. It described a number of areas in which the EU did or should focus its efforts, and methods by which this would continue or could be carried forward. After several exchanges between it and the Minister, the previous Committee recommended that it should be debated on the floor of the House.[ 217] That debate was instead held, at the Government's insistence in European Committee B, and not until 2 December 2013. At the end of the debate, the European Committee resolved as follows:

    "That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 11482/13, a Joint Commission and High Representative Communication: Towards a comprehensive EU approach to the Syrian crisis; and agrees with the Government that in responding to the Syrian crisis, the EU should focus its efforts on those areas in which it has expertise, complementing broader national and international efforts."[ 218]

22.19 Subsequent developments are outlined above. They include reference to the 9   February 2015 Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on counter-terrorism, which:

—  called for comprehensive action against terrorism in line with the 2005 EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy and in full compliance with international law, fundamental values and international human rights standards;

—  noted that, while Member States have the primary responsibility for addressing terrorism, the EU as such can add value in many ways; and that the actions taken in the area of justice and home affairs need to be complemented by external engagement and outreach, especially to countries in the Middle East, North Africa, the Sahel and the Gulf;

—  said that close coordination between internal and external action on the one hand, and between relevant EU actors and EU Member States on the other hand, will enhance the impact of our common efforts; and that more emphasis on the prevention of terrorism, in particular countering radicalisation, on recruitment, equipment and financing of terrorism, and address underlying factors such as conflict, poverty, proliferation of arms and state fragility that provide opportunities for terrorist groups to flourish;

—  against this background, decided to step up, as a matter of urgency, its external action on countering terrorism in particular in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, including Yemen, and North Africa, in particular also Libya, and the Sahel;

—  said that counter-terrorism (CT) will be mainstreamed fully into EU foreign policy;

—   called for accelerated implementation of the EU Syria and Iraq and Counter-Terrorism/Foreign Fighters Strategy (adopted on 20 October 2014) with a particular focus on foreign terrorist fighters and the EU's Maghreb Communication;

—  welcomed the Joint Communication on EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Da'esh threat and looks forward to its implementation as soon as possible; and

—  also welcomed a number of initiatives to be implemented in the course of 2015, building on those actions that are already taking place in the field of Justice and Home Affairs and in Foreign and Security Policy.[ 219]

22.20 On 16 March, the Council issued Conclusions, running to 27 paragraphs, that begin thus:

"1. The EU remains committed to achieving lasting peace, stability and security in Syria, Iraq and the wider region, as well as to countering the ISIL/Da'esh threat. An inclusive political transition in Syria and inclusive political governance in Iraq are crucial to sustainable peace and stability in the region. The EU will continue to support the role of the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura and the efforts of the Iraqi Government to achieve those objectives. In this regard, the EU recalls the Council Conclusions of 20 October, 15 December 2014 as well as 9 February 2015.

"2. The EU condemns unreservedly the indiscriminate attacks, atrocities, killings and abuses of human rights which are perpetrated by ISIL/Da'esh and other terrorist groups, in particular against Christians and other religious and ethnic groups. The EU underlines the importance of preserving the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-confessional character of the Syrian and Iraqi societies. The EU supports international efforts and initiatives to address these issues and welcomes in this regard the Ministerial meeting that will take place at the UN Security Council on 27 March on the victims of attacks and abuses on ethnic or religious ground in the Middle East.

"The EU strongly condemns acts of violence and abuses committed against children, noting with concern the practice of Da'esh/ISIL of enlisting children into its armed units, forcing them to participate in executions and subjecting them to various forms of physical and psychological pressure.

"3. The EU urges all international actors, in particular the countries in the region, to play a constructive role in addressing the crises as their engagement is necessary in order to achieve regional and international stability and to find durable solutions.

"4. The EU supports efforts by the Global Coalition to counter ISIL/Da'esh, including military action in accordance with international law. It recalls that military action in this context is necessary but not sufficient to defeat ISIL/Da'esh. It will coordinate closely with international partners in the framework of the Global Coalition's working groups on stabilisation, strategic counter-messaging, foreign terrorist fighters, countering terrorist financing and military action. It will also contribute to implement UN Security Council resolutions 2161, 2170, 2178, 2199, and other relevant resolutions. This will include the security measures spelled out in the EU Syria and Iraq counter-terrorism/foreign fighters strategy endorsed by the Council on 20 October 2014, which is an integral part of the EU regional strategy.

"The EU calls on all states to comply with UN Security Council resolutions 2161 and 2199 to ensure that no funds, other financial assets or economic resources are made available, directly or indirectly, by their nationals or by persons within their territory for the benefit of ISIL/Da'esh, Al-Qaida and affiliated groups.

"5. In the implementation of the strategy, the EU will focus its efforts on policy areas in which it has an added value in relation to the activities of the Member States. In pursuing its policy actions the EU will act in close coordination and will seek complementarity with the measures implemented by other international and regional partners, and the Iraqi government."[ 220]

The Minister's letter of 24 March 2015

22.21 The then (and current) Minister highlights paragraph 5 of the Council Conclusions and then highlights the follow specific points, which he says reflect and complement UK policy:

"ISIL

"EU efforts to tackle ISIL will be coordinated with the 'Global Coalition to Counter ISIL' through its working groups and will focus on areas where the EU can add most value. Some key areas where the EU has a significant role to play include:

·  "diplomatic engagement with countries in the region to promote regional support for security and long term peace;

·  "assisting countries in the region, particularly Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan with border management and aviation security, including capacity building projects;

·  "continuing to work to unblock Passenger Name Records (PNR) sharing within the EU;

·  "delivering counter-extremism and counter-narrative initiatives, including amplifying messages from those in the region, and capacity-building projects in Lebanon and Jordan;

·  "continued provision of humanitarian assistance to address immediate needs and to promote resilience, recovery and post-conflict reintegration and development.

"The EU will also implement United Nations Security Council resolutions 2161, 2170, 2178, 2199 and other relevant resolutions. Whilst the Regional Strategy outlines the overall framework for the EU's comprehensive response to Syria and Iraq, the EU's Syria and Iraq CT and Foreign Fighters strategy identifies specific areas for CT activity in the region, with a focus on countering the foreign fighters phenomenon. Both documents are closely linked.

"SYRIA

"The Regional Strategy commits the EU to continue working towards:

·  "A Syrian-led, broad-based transition on the basis of the Geneva Communiqué, and working with the moderate opposition and civil society actors towards this end;

·  "Continuing to apply and increasing pressure on the Assad regime, notably through further targeted sanctions and other appropriate restrictive measures (through which the EU already adds significant value);

·  "Assisting in the provision of services and rebuilding of administration in areas of reduced conflict; and

·  "Promoting human rights / international humanitarian law and ensuring accountability."

22.22 The then (and current) Minister describes this as a development on the earlier Joint Communication ("Towards a comprehensive EU approach to the Syrian crisis") produced in June 2013 by the Commission and the High Representative.[ 221] The Regional Strategy:

"therefore acknowledges the changing situation on the ground, including the rise of extremist groups such as ISIL. To tackle these threats there must be an inclusive political solution in Syria, which meets the democratic aspiration of the Syrian people and those moderate opposition groups who represent them. The repressive and violent methods used by Assad to resist calls for democratic change have created an environment that has allowed extremist groups to flourish; there is no place for Assad in Syria's future.

"IRAQ

"The EU, alongside the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, has an important role to play in supporting PM Abadi as he works to rebuild public trust in the Government of Iraq. The UK worked to ensure that the Regional Strategy's objectives for Iraq are clearly aligned with the Government of Iraq's agreed government programme, which includes commitments to political reform, reconciliation between communities and the respect for human rights. More specifically, it is welcome that the Regional Strategy will create opportunities for the EU to assist the Government of Iraq with security and justice sector reform, economic reform and development, as well as anti-corruption efforts and enhanced public financial management.

"The Council also highlighted some additional, key overarching points and principles:

·  "The EU's commitment to provide support to countries in the region, including Lebanon and Jordan.

·  "Women's empowerment and their full and effective participation will be integrated into all EU efforts;

·  "Humanitarian aid will remain strictly separate from other strands of EU action, in line with the humanitarian principles;"

22.23 So far as an Implementation Plan is concerned, the Minister says:

"The EU does not plan to publish an implementation plan at present. The Conclusions set out that the Council, EEAS and Commission will work together to plan and swiftly implement the Strategy and that this implementation will be supported by the exchange of best practice and information. Joint monitoring of implementation will also take place, including through six-monthly progress updates from the Institutions. I will undertake to provide an update on implementation to the Committees in due course, in particular when the first progress report is made available."

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-fifth Report HC 219-xxxiv (2014-15), chapter 7 (4 March 2015); also see (35105), 11482/13: Thirteenth Report HC 83-xiii (2013-14), chapter 2 (4 September 2013).


210   See the full Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions. Back

211   See the Annex to our previous Report and full European Council Conclusions. Back

212   The acronym in Arabic of the so-called "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant" is Da'esh. Back

213   And set out in detail in our predecessor's previous Report: see Thirty-fifth Report HC 219-xxxiv (2014-15), chapter 7 (4 March 2015). Back

214   See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmgeneral/euro/131202/131202s01.htm for the record of that debate. Back

215   Thirty-fifth Report HC 219-xxxiv (2014-15), chapter 7 (4 March 2015). Back

216   11482/13, JOIN(13) 22. Back

217   See (35105), 11482/13: Thirteenth Report HC 83-xiii (2013-14), chapter 2 (4 September 2013). Back

218   See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmgeneral/euro/131202/131202s01.htm for the record of that debate. Back

219   See http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2015/02/150209-council-conclusions-counter-terrorism/ for the full Council Conclusions. Back

220   For the full Council Conclusions, see press release . Back

221   See (35105), 11482/13: Thirteenth Report HC 83-xiii (2013-14), chapter 2 (4 September 2013) for full details of this earlier Joint Communication and the previous Committee's consideration thereof. Back


 
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