The European Professionals Network (EPN) was pleased to participate in the CEPS conference “A Divided Syria: Next steps for the international community” on February 18, 2014. Steven Blockmans, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the EU Foreign Policy Unit – CEPS opened the meeting by providing key facts on the current situation in Syria. Three years have passed since the hostilities in Syria started and the situation shows no imminence of improvement.Mr Blockmans then gave the floor to the panel of speakers: Andrew J.Tabler, Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute US; Nacira Boulehouat, Deputy Head of the Middle East Division at the European External Action Service and Richard Stanforth, Regional Policy Officer at Oxfam Great Britain.
Andrew J.Tabler (Senior Fellow, The Washington Institute, US) presented the position and actions undertaken by the US on the Syrian issue. He mainly focused on the recent Geneva II talks, a product of the US-Russia cooperation. The talks didn’t produce the expected results. The opposition which is historically known to have divided opinions on many subjects, unexpectedly agreed and stuck together at the Geneva II talks. The Assad regime position was also surprising inelastic. To conclude, Andrew J.Tabler proposed three possible ways of approaching the coming period in Syria: have a clear idea and understanding of the 2118 resolution, manage the delivery of supplies in a divided Syria and deal with terrorism activities coming out of Syria
Nacira Boulehouat (Deputy Head of Middle East Division, European External Action Service) presented the European Union’s position in the Syrian conflict. The European Union has been criticized for its management of the Syrian dossier. That is why, Ms. Bouleouhat reminded and underlined the EU’s high involvement in the promotion and the facilitation of negotiations. The EU has been trying to make the talks possible and maintaining the opposition on the table. In addition, the EU is the major donor when it comes to the Syrian crisis. In fact, it has brought a lot of support to civilians and refugees.
Richard Stanforth (Regional Policy Officer, Oxfam Great Britain) gave information on the assistance granted to Syria. The organisation has been providing help in various ways. In fact, it has been repairing water systems as well as working in refugee camps by handing out blankets and clothing. Mr. Stanforth stated that the Syrian crisis was the worst and most complicated crisis to which Oxfam had responded, especially in terms of expenses and complexity of delivery. According to Mr. Stanforth, the intervention itself in this current context is wrong. There are conditions and times when intervention might be appropriate but at the moment it would only make the situation worse. Even though he recognised the financial support provided by the European Commission, he pointed out the lack of assistance from some of the member states – alongside the European commission – who are not giving their fair share.
The conference was followed by a series of very interesting questions. Overall, the EPN team was glad to attend this conference, which, as we know, tackles a very sensitive issue to which we must react on time.