Sunday

12th Jul 2020

Italy defends bid to delay EU oil ban on Syria

  • Assad poster in Damascus. Massari said the oil embargo is not designed to create 'regime change' from the outside but to help home-grown protesters bring in reforms (Photo: oliverlaumann)

Italy has said that delaying the EU oil embargo on Syria will not make any difference to the regime. But fellow member states believe "there is not a day to lose".

Italian foreign ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari told EUobserver on Wednesday (31 August) that Rome wants the oil ban to come into force on 30 November instead of mid-October, as agreed by most other EU countries.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

He explained the delay will not affect Syrian President Bashar Assad's income because European oil importers have paid up-front for oil deliveries until the November date.

"We only ask for them to come into force one and a half months later to help the expiration of the contracts of oil supply from Syria for several European companies," Massari said. "The contracts have already been paid for by Western European countries including Italy ... This flexibility with the time frame does not alter the strength of the political message that we want to send."

Italian ports in July handled 50 percent of Syrian crude exports to the EU, with some of the oil going to refineries run by Italian firms Eni, IES Italiana and Saras.

Fellow EU members believe the level of violence merits more urgent action, however.

"Since oil exports are 30 percent of the regime's revenue, the sooner you cut this the better, when you see what's happening on the ground - people being killed each day," a diplomat from a large EU country said. "Maybe this is just Italian spin to say 'We are the big boys. We are important [in terms of EU foreign policy in the Middle East]'."

Amnesty International in a report out Wednesday noted that 78 men and 10 boys were murdered in Syrian prisons in the past five months on top of the 2,200 people killed in the streets. Torture - including genital mutilation and burns - played a part in 52 of the prison deaths. Some of the worst atrocities are being committed by irregular militias, the shabiha, whose members are reportedly paid between $40 and $200 a day, but but which are threatening to go on strike because money is running out.

Italy has joined EU appeals for Assad to step down and recalled its ambassador from Damascus. But its close relations with Syria mirror its ties with pre-revolutionary Libya.

Italy in 2009 licenced its top arms firm Finmeccanica to sell 286 parts and 600 hours' worth of technical assistance for Turms targeting equipment, which is mounted on Syria's Soviet-made tanks. "Turms is a top performance tank fire control/sighting system, including stabilised day-night sight for the gunner and panoramic stabilised day-night periscope for the commander," the company blurb says.

Asked if Italy has stopped arms shipments to Syria, Massari said: "I am almost certain, yes."

Meanwhile, the EU oil ban risks doing more harm than good according to Peter Harling, a Damascus-based analyst for the International Crisis Group think-tank.

The sanctions, due to be agreed by EU foreign ministers in Poland this week, may "backfire" because "the regime will pin economic woes on an international conspiracy" he said in an op-ed for Foreign Policy magazine on Wednesday.

For his part, Michel Koutouzis, a Middle East expert whose French company, Lotophages Consulting, advises the EU diplomatic service, said water is more effective than oil in stopping Assad.

"Turkey is very pissed off [with Syria] and it has the possibility to apply real pressure. After all its work on dams, it can cut off Syria's water from one day to the next," he told this website. Recalling events back in 1998, he added: "When [Kurdish separatist leader] Ocalan and [Kurdish militants] the PKK were in Damascus, the Turks got the result they wanted - they got them thrown out pretty quick."

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.

France calls Libya victory summit, warns Syria

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called a high-level meeting on Libya's post-Gaddafi future and promised support - but no military action - for opposition forces in Syria.

Eminent women appeal for EU help on Palestine

West Bank annexation "was conceived almost entirely by men" and will crush the "dignity and rights" of Palestinian women still further, a group of 40 women leaders have said.

News in Brief

  1. Citizens' perception of judicial independence drops
  2. Irish finance minister voted in as eurogroup president
  3. Italy's League party opens office near old communist HQ
  4. 'Significant divergences' remain in Brexit talks
  5. Germany identifies 32,000 right-wing extremists
  6. WHO to hold probe of global Covid-19 response
  7. China accuses Australia of 'gross interference' on Hong Kong
  8. EU to let Croatia, Bulgaria take first step to join euro

Opinion

Entering a new, more Putin-like, Russia

The so-called "all-Russia" vote finishing today, with more than 200 amendments to the Russian constitution, has been marked by systematic electoral fraud, mass mobilisation of the administrative resources, populistic promises or exploiting the historical memory.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Michel lays out compromise budget plan for summit
  2. Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact
  3. EU 'failed to protect bees and pollinators', report finds
  4. MEPs give green light to road transport sector reform
  5. If EU wants rule of law in China, it must help 'dissident' lawyers
  6. Five ideas to reshape 'Conference on Future of Europe'
  7. EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece
  8. Hydrogen strategy criticised for relying on fossil fuel gas

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us