The EU cannot let Russia, Turkey and Iran dictate Syria's future

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Marietje

Warmongers brokering Syria solution in Astana

Today, a most unlikely trio concluded meetings at a conference meant to find a ‘Syrian settlement’ in Astana. The terms are defined by Russia, Iran and Turkey, while the EU, US or the UN were not at the table.

Russia and Iran are state sponsors of the Assad regime and they have long found themselves on the opposite side of Turkey, which in turn backed opposition groups and has repeatedly called on Assad to step down. Yet today, the three countries are shaping the sketches of further peace-talks in a statement that has only limited support from opposition groups.

Serious initiatives which may end the brutal violence and bloodshed in Syria should be welcomed. Yet the true objectives of Moscow and of Tehran representatives are questionable and will not necessarily benefit the population. Having aided in the bombing and killing of thousands of innocent people, who at the table has their fate at heart? Instead, for Russia, Iran and Turkey, the Syrian conflict and the Astana negotiations are a tool to re-assert themselves as power players in the region.

Vacuum

We have to ask ourselves how we got here, and what role the EU plays besides paying the bulk of humanitarian bills. It is surprising that despite the obvious impact on EU Member States, no common position on Syria exists between them today (also see one of my previous calls for EU unity on Syria). What's more is that High Representative Mogherini astonishingly claimed the EU has nothing to be ashamed of, and is exactly where it should be vis-à-vis Syria. In reality, while Mogherini repeated the mantra that no military solution to the war exists, Russia did force a military breakthrough, while both Assad and jihadist terrorists continue their killing machines. The rejection of European military intervention became a license to kill.

The blatant absence of the EU, as well as the US and UN at the negotiating table, are reason to be ashamed and concerned. They are a direct consequence of their absence in seeking to end the war over the past 6 years. Still, the grave consequences for the Syrian people first and foremost, but certainly also for Europe, are far reaching. There is an urgent need to reverse course if we do not want other global players to cynically pursue policies against international law, human rights and EU interests.

Now or never for EU foreign policy

In addition to an increasingly aggressive Russia, the US may take a drastic turn in its definition of the Transatlantic relation. President Trump has made no secret of the fact that he intends to put America first; even if this means cozying up to Putin and stepping away from NATO responsibilities. This is no time for complacency.

All of the above illustrates that the EU urgently needs a strong, effective and common foreign and defense policy. It seems almost unbelievable that while former foes such as Turkey, Iran and Russia can unite, the EU’s member states time and time again fail to reach a common position (my plenary speech on Syria in November 2016). A fragmented Europe is a weak Europe. When we act together we are a major political power, which should not be missing from negotiations that impact us as deeply as the Astana talks will.

Only by consistently adhering to a foreign policy based on values and universal rights can the EU be a credible and decisive player, and avoid leaving its seat at the table empty.