The 10th anniversary of the Syrian uprising passed last week without as much comment as it merited. Next week, the EU will host the fifth international pledging conference tasked with ‘Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region,’ also referred to as ‘Brussels V’.
The war in Syria has killed close to 500,000 people since it started in 2011 and displaced nearly half of the country’s population. Yet despite it having sparked the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, it is in danger of becoming a forgotten conflict, which the international community is quietly allowing to play itself out.
That is partly the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact that fewer Syrian refugees are arriving in Europe and the intractability of the conflict. Sanctions appear to have done little to loosen Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power.
As a result, Western governments have stood back, perhaps in the hope that the economic crisis now facing al-Assad’s government will finally force serious political concessions out of it. The evidence thus far, however, is that the regime has only intensified its firm security hold over core areas of the country,
In the meantime, the international community has been reduced to doing little beyond handing over money. The EU has pledged €22 billion over the past 10 years
Last year’s pledging conference, also hosted by the EU, generated pledges totalling €12.4 billion.
It might sound a lot but it is not nearly enough to support the 5.6 million refugees in the region, of whom an estimated 80% are living in poverty. The Syria Humanitarian Response Plan and the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan are only funded at 43% and 28% respectively.
That leaves Europe and the United States, for whom Joe Biden appears to have continued the Trump administration’s policy of pressure through sanctions, facing a delicate balancing act.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, insists that “there will be no end to sanctions, no normalisations, no support for reconstruction until a political transition is underway.”
That is well and good, but the status quo is clearly not working.
Among the options being touted by analysts are targeted financial support for healthcare and education provision and local businesses in areas not held by the government such as Idlib, or the Kurdish-controlled north-east, and imposing conditions for financial aid that might be accessed by the government in Damascus.
The most recent pledging summit for Yemen saw less than 50% of UN funding targets met. Should next week’s summit in Brussels deliver a repeat performance, it would be confirmation that the international community has lost interest in Syria.
The fact that we have arrived at ‘Brussels V’ rather suggests that it is time for a new approach.
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EU officials remain frustrated by the behaviour of AstraZeneca pharmaceutical, which is still struggling to deliver the expected doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Europe, and are set to use all the tools at their disposal to secure further doses for Europeans.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged to rebuild and revitalise the transatlantic military alliance after a bruising four years when Washington portrayed NATO as outdated, divided and in crisis.
The environment ministers of Poland, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic have criticised the constraints imposed by the “do no significant harm” principle when it comes to EU funding. Others like Denmark, meanwhile, defend strict limits on fossil fuel spending in the EU’s recovery plan.
It would be wise to impose the equivalent standards of animal welfare on meat imports coming into the EU, according to a top EU official, who said this would be compliant with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, provided it was based on “ethical grounds”.
A new study on food quality has found detectable differences between European products but said they were not correlated with geography, lending weight to the idea that there is no East-West divide in food quality discrimination in Europe.
Leading companies in the waste management sector have called on EU lawmakers to revise a draft regulation on sustainable batteries to increase the target for used battery collection and to make it mandatory for battery producers to use recycled content in their production cycles.
Several major French mosques have expressed concern that a proposed ban on the slaughter of poultry without first stunning the animals would effectively lead to a ban on halal chicken, while the agriculture ministry says this concern is unfounded.
Family farming is no easy task, but one young Bulgarian couple has shown that sustainable farming can be a successful business venture, while also helping to revive one of the EU’s poorest regions.
Look out for…
- EU leaders meet for a virtual summit on COVID-19 vaccines, Russia and Turkey. They will be joined by US President Joe Biden for an exchange of views on EU-US relations.
Views are the author’s