Documents considered by the Committee on 9 September 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


19 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

19.1 This is not the first time that the EU has endeavoured to articulate a comprehensive approach to the Syria crisis (see "Background" below). 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.

19.2 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.

The previous Committee's assessment

19.3 Most analysts took the view that denying it territory was the key to defeating the ISIL phenomenon; and the EU had no role therein. In other ways, however, there was no doubt that the EU had a major role to play in securing long-term stability.

19.4 The challenge, as the then (and present) Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) 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".

19.5 Moreover, as the European Committee had resolved after having debated this Joint Communication's precursor, "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" (see "Background" below[ 128]).

19.6 As its title suggested, this Joint Communication was the first stage: 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.

19.7 The previous Committee therefore asked the Minister to write immediately after the 16 March 2015 Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), so that it could report the outcome to the House before it dissolved (the Committee's last meeting being on 24 March 2015). 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.

19.8 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.

19.9 In the meantime, the previous Committee retained the Joint Communication under scrutiny.[ 129]

19.10 The Minister confirmed on 24 March that the 16 March FAC had adopted the Joint Communication, as drafted, and that it and the Council Conclusions now constituted the EU Regional Strategy for Syria, Iraq and ISIL/Da'esh; they made clear that the Regional Strategy would be coordinated with and complementary to the efforts of Member States, and international organisations and partners. He also highlighted a number of specific points that reflected and complemented UK policy (see "Background" below).

Our assessment

19.11 Noting that joint Council/EEAS/Commission monitoring of implementation would include six-monthly progress updates, we looked forward to receiving the first such as soon as it was produced, with the Minister's views thereon.

19.12 In the meantime, we deeply regretted 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 had taken 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 contained no word of explanation or apology.

19.13 We accordingly trusted that the Minister would wish to ensure that systems were now put in place to ensure that this did not happen in future, as the basis of what we hoped would be a generally more constructive engagement with the scrutiny process. In the first instance, we asked for a swift explanation as to why the previous Committee's reasonable request was not met.

19.14 In the meantime, we continued to retain the Joint Communication under scrutiny.[ 130]

19.15 We accept the Minister's explanation (see "Background").

19.16 We note his assurance, once more, that he takes the scrutiny process "extremely seriously and deeply regret[s] that my last letter did not reach the Committee in time for its final meeting before Purdah, as requested. He says that procedures are now in place "to ensure that every effort is made to avoid similar delays". We look forward to seeing evidence of such in future, including a timely report on the first implementation update, with a full outline of his views on it and on the way forward.

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

Full details of the documents: Joint Communication — Elements for an EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Da'esh threat: (36664), 6031/15, JOIN(15) 2.2

Background

19.18 In 2013, the Commission and European External Action Service (EEAS) 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.[ 131] 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.[ 132] 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."[ 133]

19.19 This "follow up" Joint Communication, Elements for an EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Da'esh threat,[ 134] was 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.

19.20 The Minister for Europe's approach to this proposal is set out in detail in our predecessor's previous Report. [ 135]

19.21 The Minister 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 constituted the EU Regional Strategy for Syria, Iraq and ISIL/Da'esh.[ 136] He noted in particular that the Conclusions made clear that the Regional Strategy would be coordinated with and complementary to the efforts of Member States, and international organisations and partners. He also highlighted a number of specific points that reflected and complemented UK policy. Principal among these were:

—  ISIL: EU efforts to tackle ISIL would be coordinated with the "Global Coalition to Counter ISIL" through its working groups and would focus on areas where the EU could add most value;

—  whilst the Regional Strategy outlined the overall framework for the EU's comprehensive response to Syria and Iraq, the EU's "Syria and Iraq CT and Foreign Fighters" strategy identified specific areas for CT activity in the region, with a focus on countering the foreign fighters phenomenon; both documents were closely linked;

—  Syria: though essentially a development on the 2013 Joint Communication, "Towards a comprehensive EU approach", the Regional Strategy accordingly acknowledged 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 met the democratic aspiration of the Syrian people and those moderate opposition groups who represented them; the repressive and violent methods used by Assad to resist calls for democratic change had enabled extremist groups to flourish; there was no place for Assad in Syria's future;

—  Iraq: the UK worked to ensure that the Regional Strategy's objectives for Iraq were clearly aligned with the Government of Iraq's agreed government programme, which included commitments to political reform, reconciliation between communities and the respect for human rights; it would 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 would include six-monthly progress updates, about the first of which the Government will update the Committee.

The Minister's letter of 31 July 2015

19.22 The Minister says:

"First, please be assured that I take the scrutiny process extremely seriously and deeply regret that my last letter did not reach the Committee in time for its final meeting before Purdah, as requested.

"This delay was the result of my effort to ensure the Committee was furnished with sufficiently detailed information. The original draft would not have met the Committee's needs so I asked my officials to redraft the letter, resulting in the delayed transmission of the letter to the Committee. Processes have now been put into place to ensure that every effort is made to avoid similar delays.

"As noted in my previous letter, I undertake to provide the Committee with an update on the Strategy in the autumn."

Previous Committee Reports

First Report HC 342-i (2015-16), chapter 22 (21 July 2015) and 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).



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

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

130   First Report HC 342-i (2015-16), chapter 22 (21 July 2015). Back

131   Joint Communication Towards a comprehensive EU approach to the Syrian crisis: 35105, 11482/13, JOIN(13) 22. Back

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

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

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

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

136   See. Council Conclusions on the EU Regional Strategy for Syria and Iraq As Well As The Isil/Da'esh Threat. Back


 
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