Saturday

18th Jan 2020

EU oil sanctions on Syria are 'a done deal'

  • Shell spokesman: 'We are a law-abiding operation, like any other decent company' (Photo: Antonio)

EU countries have agreed to impose an oil embargo on Syria in the hope of accelerating the fall of President Bashar Assad by cutting off his money.

Diplomats in the Political and Security Committee in Brussels on Friday (19 August) tasked the European External Action Service (EEAS) with drawing up legal proposals for the oil ban. The new measures will be discussed early next week and are expected to come into force in a matter of days.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK backed the move. Cyprus, Greece and Italy voiced worries it would hurt ordinary Syrians but did not put up strong opposition.

One EU diplomat said the oil ban is designed to speed up regime change. "The general feeling of today's meeting is that we are now entering into a transition phase [in Syria] ... and when we are looking at transition, then perhaps political considerations outweigh economic considerations [for EU oil companies]," he said.

Another EU diplomat told this website: "The Brits said Syrian people are suffering anyway and are willing to accept some temporary hardships. The Dutch said we need smart sanctions minimising the impact on ordinary people, but we can't use this as an excuse for half-hearted measures."

A third diplomatic contact said: "The fact that the 27 countries have tasked [the EEAS] to draw up legal proposals suggests it's pretty much a done deal."

The legal proposals will also look at: extending sanctions to Syrian banks and telecommunications firms; suspending European Investment Bank assistance; and imposing visa bans and asset freezes on people "supporting the regime or benefitting from its actions." Current sanctions cover only people directly involved in violent repression.

In the run-up to the new mandate, the EU will add 15 more Syrian officials and five firms to its existing blacklist of 35 people and four companies.

The hawkish mood comes after Syria this week used gunboats to shell the city of Latakia despite international appeals. It also comes after a UN study chronicling reports of mass murder over the past five months.

EU diplomats in Damascus are currently analysing post-Assad scenarios, amid fears his fall could lead to internecine conflict between ordinary Sunni Muslims, Sunni Muslim radicals and the ruling Alawite Muslim minority.

Syria exports over 95 percent of its oil to the EU, with the income accounting for 20 to 30 percent of its state budget.

The three main businesses involved are the UK's Gulfsands Petroleum, Anglo-Dutch company Shell and French firm Total.

Gulfsands Petroleum is the most heavily exposed - it produces 90 percent of its oil in Syria and lost 44 percent of its value since March. It is part-owned by Rami Makhlouf, a Syrian oligarch who is already on the EU blacklist.

A spokesman for Shell told EUobserver it owns a "minority stake" in Syria's Al Furat Petroleum Company.

Shell's own ethical code - the Shell General Business Principles (SGBP) - promises "to conduct business as responsible corporate members of society ... [and] to support fundamental human rights in line with the legitimate role of business."

When asked if its work in Syria is in line with the SGBP, the spokesman said "Shell complies with all laws and sanctions. We are a law-abiding operation, like any other decent company." He added that the code would not allow it to operate in Burma, North Korea or Sudan.

US and EU call for Syrian leader to go

EU countries will on Friday discuss top-up sanctions against Syria after the White House and leading European countries said President Bashar Assad must relinquish power.

Former CIA officer questions EU motives in Syria

EU and US intervention in Syria is designed to harm Iran and to protect Israel and Lebanese Christians, not Syrian people, according to Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer with experience of the region.

China spy suspect worked for EU for 30 years

The former EU ambassador suspected by German prosecutors of spying for China was Gerhard Sabathil, according to EU officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

News in Brief

  1. 'No objection in principle' on Huawei cooperation, EU says
  2. French aircraft carrier goes to Middle East amid tensions
  3. EU suggests temporary ban on facial recognition
  4. EU industry cries foul on Chinese restrictions
  5. 'Devil in detail', EU warns on US-China trade deal
  6. Trump threatened EU-tariffs over Iran, Germany confirms
  7. EU trade commissioner warns UK of 'brinkmanship'
  8. Germany strikes coal phase-out deal

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Opinion

'A game of roulette' - life as a journalist now in Turkey

Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. The authorities seem to equate journalism with terrorism: everyone has the right to express themselves, but, in their eyes, legitimate journalism is a threat to security.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us