"The EU is actively preparing to expand its restrictive measures by additional designations with a view to achieving a fundamental change of policy by the Syrian leadership without delay," a statement agreed by EU foreign ministers said.
EU diplomats said they expected a decision to expand the sanctions later in the week.
"The situation of violence is extremely alarming and you'll see that all of us involved, all the international community, call on President Bashar al-Assad to stop the violence and for him to start listening to what people actually ask him to do," said High Representative Catherine Ashton ahead of the Foreign Affairs Council.
Apparently, the speech given by the Syrian president neither reassured the international community nor managed to defuse popular grievances in the country as protesters took to the streets and said Assad's speech did not meet popular demands for sweeping political change.
"No to dialogue with murderers," chanted 300 protesters in the Damascus suburb of Irbin, a witness told Reuters.
In a speech at Damascus University dominated by security concerns, Assad accused "saboteurs" among protesters demanding an end to his 11-year rule of serving a foreign conspiracy to sow chaos.
Under mounting international pressure and facing wider street protests despite a military crackdown that has killed more than 1,300 people, Assad, from Syria's minority Alawite sect, said political reforms he had launched since the three-month uprising began would stabilise the country and diffuse grievances.
But in the Sunni Sleibeh and Raml al-Filistini districts of the mixed coastal city of Latakia, where several Sunni neighbourhoods have been surrounded by troops and armour for weeks, protesters chanted "liar, liar."
"People were still hoping he would say something meaningful that would result in tanks and troops leaving the streets. They were disappointed and started going out as soon as Assad finished talking," one activist in Latakia said.
In the city of Hama, scene of a 1982 attack to crush an uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood that killed thousands of civilians during the rule of Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, protesters chanted "damn your soul, Hafez".
Demonstrations also took place in the eastern city of Albu Kamal on the border with Iraq, the southern city of Deraa and other towns in the Hauran Plain, cradle of the uprising, now in its fourth month, and at the campus of Aleppo University, activists said.
EurActiv with Reuters