21st Sep 2019

Austria: EU talks on Syria have failed

Austria raised the stakes in EU talks on Syria late on Monday (27 May), saying the UK and France have destroyed a potential compromise on arms shipments to rebels.

Foreign ministers broke off negotiations for dinner at 8.30pm local time in Brussels and planned to restart at 10pm in what one diplomat predicted will be "a long night."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

But Austria's Michael Spindelegger used the break to tell press the talks have failed.

He said the best potential compromise was to renew an EU arms embargo on Syria for another year, while giving EU countries the option to suspend it in August if they all agree there is "a real tremendous change in the situation."

He said the UK and France instead asked for a free hand to ship weapons when they deem fit, while making a political promise not to do it just yet.

"It did not happen," he said on efforts to get all 27 EU states to agree.

"I can't imagine there will be a change after so many hours of talks," he added.

With the old EU sanctions to legally expire on 1 June, Spindelegger noted that EU nations will now have to create 27 separate sets of restrictions on arms transfers or visa bans and asset freezes on Syrian VIPs.

"Afterwards, everybody is entitled to deliver weapons to the [Syrian] regime or to the opposition. What we can do from the Austrian side is … to create sanctions at national level. So we will not be open to any officials of [Syrian leader] Assad coming to Austria with a visa," he noted.

Other ministers were less pessimistic, however.

Breaking for the dinner, Germany's Guido Westerwelle told media the talks have been "difficult" but "constructive."

British foreign minister William Hague said little on his way out, but promised to return.

An EU diplomat noted that "serious work will continue" and that the ministers would not be coming back at 10pm if the talks had really collapsed.

Britain and France believe the arms move is needed to force the Syrian government to negotiate and to help protect civilians from its jets and tanks.

But Austria is against it on two grounds.

It is worried about reprisals against Austrian peacekeepers in a UN contingent on the Israeli-Syrian border.

It also says the EU is a "peace organisation" which should not make a "fundamental" change in its foreign policy by intervening on one side in a civil war.

Other arms sceptics, such as the Czech republic, worry that modern surface-to-air or anti-tank missiles shipped to "moderate" rebels, such as the Free Syrian Army, will end up in the hands of Islamist radicals.

For their part, Turkey and the US back the Anglo-French idea.

But some US experts think they could be in for a nasty surprise.

Robert Baer, a former CIA officer in the Middle East who now writes on security issues for Time magazine, told EUobserver: "Once those arms cross the border, there's no control over them."

He said that as in the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s, the fiercest fighters in Syria are religious extremists.

"What you're doing is creating a Salafi nation if they win in Syria … If they take down Assad, they won't thank the West. Their only objective will be to export jihad to Lebanon and Jordan," he said, referring to the extremist Salafi movement in Sunni Islam and the Islamic concept of holy war.

"They're going to fire that stuff [British and French weapons] at Israel because they want to meet their maker," he added.


What is the Free Syrian Army? An inside look

As EU foreign ministers meet in Dublin to discuss arming the Free Syrian Army, Koert Debeuf, an EU parliament official, tells EUobserver who the rebels really are.

EU arms to Syria: what, how and if

Britain and France are since Saturday free to ship arms to Syrian rebels. But many analysts think the idea is "a bluff."


How should the EU handle Russia now?

Should West help Russian opposition in its struggle against the regime, or make new deals with Putin, as France is keen to do?

News in Brief

  1. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'
  2. UK secrecy on Brexit holds back wider EU talks
  3. Feminist mass protest in Spain after 19 murders this summer
  4. Global climate strike starts ahead of UN summit
  5. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  6. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  7. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  8. Germany takes carbon border tax on board


These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.


Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Europe goes to New York This WEEK
  2. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  3. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  4. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  5. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  6. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  7. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  8. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us