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Greater EU unity needed on Arab revolts and tougher sanctions on Syria

Summary: 11 May 2011, Strasbourg - A stronger and more united EU stance on the Arab uprisings was the key demand made by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), led by the EPP and S&D groups, in a debate with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday. The ALDE, ECR and Green groups criticised the EU's approach towards Syria as unbalanced and called for President Bassar Al-Assad to be included on the list of Syrian officials sanctioned by the EU.

More broadly, the EU's foreign, security and defence policies need a new roadmap, said Parliament said in three resolutions adopted following the debate, which was held six months after the launch on 1 December 2010 of the EU External Action Service headed by Baroness Ashton.

Syria, Bahrain, Yemen

The situation in Syria is "a huge disaster" and is becoming "an Arab Tiananmen", argued ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt (BE) in the debate. His group, together with leaders of the ECR and Greens/EFA groups, called for President Bassar Al-Assad to be included "as soon as possible" on the list of Syrian officials subject to EU sanctions. The Council agreed on Friday 6 May to impose travel bans and asset freezes on 13 high-level Syrian officials but left out the name of the President Al-Assad.

Calls for an arms embargo by EU Member States on Syria, Yemen and Bahrain and for a moratorium on the executions of four Bahraini protestors were among key demands made in the first two resolutions, drafted by Gabriele Albertini (EPP, IT) and Roberto Gualtieri (S&D, IT). Parliament also urged the EU to suspend ongoing negotiations for an Association Agreement with Syria.


During the debate, Parliament applauded Lady Ashton's announcement that an EU office will be opened in Benghazi "to assist the people and the Interim Transitional National Council".

The UN mandate to protect Libyans should not be exceeded by using disproportionate force, warned the resolution. MEPs urged the High Representative to work closely with the Libyan opposition force, the Interim Transitional National Council, and to "play a strong role in fostering political initiatives" to secure an early ceasefire in the country and stop the bloodshed. The goal must be the resignation of Gaddafi and the provision of immediate humanitarian aid to Misrata and other regions of Libya.

Further priorities

Other messages, backed by many MEPs in the debate, were the need to investigate the killing of Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf in Iraq and to make progress in resolving the Middle East conflict.

While most groups called for Palestinian taxes to be turned over by Israel to the Palestinian territories, the ECR and EFD groups spoke against the EU maintaining relations with Hamas, despite its recent reconciliation with Fatah. "Our position on Hamas has not changed", replied Lady Ashton, "but I don't consider the flotilla to be the right response to the humanitarian situation in Gaza", she said in a response to the GUE group's initiative to include two MEPs in a new flotilla scheduled for 13 June.

The release of political prisoners in Belarus and an investigation into organ trafficking allegations in Kosovo were among MEPs' other demands in the resolutions. More generally, Parliament stressed that the EU should learn lessons from the past and place human rights at the top of its agenda with third countries and in international agreements, such as those being negotiated with Russia and India.

Permanent UN seat for the EU

To strengthen the EU's presence in key multilateral organisations, a third resolution drafted by María Muñiz de Urquiza (S&D, ES) called for a reform of the United Nations whereby the EU would be able to have a permanent seat on the Security Council. The UN General Assembly voted on 3 May to grant the EU enhanced status, entitling EU officials to address the Assembly but without voting rights.

Procedure: Non-legislative resolutions

  • Ref: EP11-034EN
  • EU source: European Parliament
  • UN forum: 
  • Date: 11/5/2011

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See also

European Union Member States