EU's Political Ties with Syria

Tough Negotiations for Partnership Treaty

After almost one year of bargaining and bickering, Syria and the European Union were able to initiate a partnership treaty - the US continues its sanctions policy. Bernd Riegert reports from Brussels

The talks had been stalled since last December because the Syrian government refused to accept a clause about non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This paragraph in the association treaty was essential for Great Britain, Germany and Denmark.

"These were tough negotiations," said Chris Patten, EU Commissioner in charge of foreign relations. "And I'm not saying that the parties involved had been disrespectful of one another. I'm saying that the issues discussed had been complicated and difficult for both sides."

The Barcelona Process

Now, that the dispute is over, Syria will be invited as a full member into the club of twelve Mediterranean partner countries and organisations, which work together with the EU in the so-called Barcelona Process, named after the Spanish harbour city, where it was invented in 1995.

Syria will gain easier access to European markets and direct financial aid, which amounts to 80 million euro in the next two years.

In return the European Union expects speedier political and economic reforms in the authoritarian Arab republic.

Leading Syria out of political isolation

EU Commissioner Chris Patten sees the association agreement as a way to lead Syria out of its almost complete isolation.

This is not just a trade agreement," Patton said. "This is not only about breaking down trade barriers. We are working on the political issues and the development of a real dialogue - and in much more detail than ever before."

US scepticism

But the United States objects. In May President George W. Bush signed into law a couple of sanctions, which prevent American companies from doing business with Syria, except for the export of food and medicine.

Notably with the support of France, the former colonial power in Syria, the United States sponsored a second resolution in the Security Council of the United Nations on Syria within a few weeks.

The resolution, adopted this Tuesday, urges Syria to withdraw its 14,000 troops from neighbouring Lebanon.

Syria's ties to Hisbollah

UN-Secretary General Kofi Annan also told Syria to stop terrorists, namely the Hisbollah, who use Lebanon as a base to launch attacks on Israel.

The Syrian foreign secretary Faruk al Shara did not speak to reporters in Brussels, but Syrian diplomats denied any involvement of their country in any terrorist acts.

However, the US also holds Damascus accountable for extremists, who allegedly infiltrate into Iraq to kill US-soldiers.

The State Department is considering tightening US sanctions by freezing the foreign bank accounts of Syrian government officials.

More democracy by higher living standards

The European Union, on the other hand, hopes in the long run to improve the living standards of the fast growing population.

The unemployment rate in the state-run economy is high, growth is low. Next month the 25 foreign ministers of the European Union must decide whether to finally sign the initialled deal with Syria.

Bernd Riegert

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2004

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