Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group – Madam President, Syria is a key player in the Middle East. Last year, when I visited Damascus, I was struck by the potential of the ambitious young Syrian generation. A change towards more openness and adherence to fundamental rights is necessary for the progress of the country itself and its connections to the international community. In his inaugural speech, President al-Assad spoke of creative thinking, transparency and democracy. However, Syria’s prisons quickly filled again with political prisoners, journalists and human rights activists, such as recently when two leading human rights lawyers, Haythan Al-Maleh and Muhammad al-Hasani were sentenced for criticising Syria’s human rights record. Writer Ali Abdullah also remains in prison, after already having completed his sentence. There is no freedom of expression, including on the internet. There is a very big and painful gap between al-Assad’s self-proclaimed ambitions and the reality of achieving democracy. This is not serving the country well – and especially not the younger generation. The EU should use all the necessary means available to push Syria in the right direction and to have it improve its human rights record.