The EU has come under fire over its role in tackling the "catastrophic" humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Martin Banks, The Parliament Magazine, 16.01.2013 The EU's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton was also criticised for her "regrettable" failure to appear in parliament for a debate on the situation in Syria on Wednesday. The attack, by Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake, came the day after more than 80 people were killed by two blasts in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. The explosions reportedly struck an area between the university of Aleppo's halls of residence and the architecture faculty on the first day of exams. The Syrian observatory for human rights put the death toll at 83, and Aleppo's governor said 82 people had died. Ashton, who spoke in the Strasbourg assembly on Tuesday, was also supposed to take part in a parliamentary debate on Syria, but was instead on an official visit to Kosovo. Schaake, an ALDE member, said her absence from parliament "for two months" until Tuesday this week was "regrettable". She went on to say, "The Syrian crisis has been dragging on for two years without decisive action by the EU and others. It is a disgrace." "I would also ask why there has been a lack of unity on this among member states." Further criticism came from ECR member Charles Tannock, who deplored that there had been "so little achieved" in resolving the conflict. Irish minister of state for European affairs Lucinda Creighton, who stood in for Ashton in the debate as a representative of the Irish EU council presidency, conceded that more was needed to address what she called a "catastrophic" situation in Syria. She said, "We are all aware of the combined shortcomings of all of us. It's not perfect for sure and that is why we will focus on ways of making our efforts, through sanctions, for example, more effective." She appealed to the international community "not to lose sight" of the "human dimension" of the crisis, pointing out that it had thus far claimed 60,000 lives, led to the displacement of 2.5 million Syrians and created 500,000 refugees. However, EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva strongly defended the EU's role in the conflict, telling a half-empty plenary that the EU was "doing all it can" to ensure aid reaches people in the war-torn country. She said, "Some 23 of the 27 member states have donated generously to the aid effort and one in three Syrians are getting help as a result of our efforts. "However, we still need everyone to step up to the plate." Meanwhile, Mali's al-Qaida-backed violence is no Arab Spring - and its terrorists are no liberators, according to Tannock, a Conservative MEP. Tannock, Conservative spokesperson of foreign affairs in parliament, was speaking during an emergency debate in parliament in Strasbourg. He said, "The situation in Mali has rapidly become one of the most pressing and alarming issues facing the world, both in humanitarian terms and in the wider context of international security. "The atrocities reported in northern Mali of widespread sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers and public amputations have shocked us all, not to mention the cultural desecration of Timbuktu and other heritage sites. "The al-Qaida backed Ansar Dine, along with Islamist allies AQIM and Mujao, risk overtaking Mali, destroying that country's legitimate government, and plunging the Malian people into Islamist dictatorship."