Wednesday, 22 May 2024
WorldSyria, the precedent for breaking an EU trade agreement due to violation...

Syria, the precedent for breaking an EU trade agreement due to violation of rights

Breaking the association agreement with Israel has been, for months, one of the demands of jurists and social organizations in the face of the violation of human rights in Gaza. And it is a measure that the EU already has on the table after Spain and Ireland have formally asked the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, for a review of the agreement based on article 2, which establishes human rights. and democratic principles as the guide on which their relationships pivot. The decision is complicated for the EU given the division of the 27 due to balances towards Israel. Syria is the precedent for a break on these terms.

In 2011, the EU partially suspended the cooperation agreement it had signed with Syria in 1977 (when it was still the European Economic Community) due to the repression of the Arab Spring protests. The EU Council resolution recalled that in the agreement both parties committed to strengthening their relations based on the UN Charter and appealed to their own rules as an argument for the suspension: “Under Article 3, paragraph 5, of the Treaty of the European Union, in its relations with the rest of the world the Union contributes, especially, to peace, security and the protection of human rights, as well as to the strict respect and development of international law.

Restrictive measures for violating rights

“Starting in March 2011, protests against specific abuses of power by Syrian officials grew in a general context of growing economic and political discontent. The cautious protests that began in marginalized regions eventually turned into a nationwide uprising. The Syrian authorities have responded, and continue to do so, in a very violent manner, even shooting at the peaceful protesters,” noted the Council, which recalled the warnings about the violations of rights expressed by the UN and the EU itself against “the brutal campaign undertaken by Bashar al-Assad and his regime against his own people”, which resulted in the death or physical harm of “numerous Syrian citizens” (more than 300,000 have lost their lives in a decade of conflict).

“In the current circumstances, the Union considers that the present situation in Syria constitutes a clear violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations which constitutes the basis of cooperation between Syria and the Union,” the Council states in its decision 2011: “Considering the serious breach of general international law and the principles of the United Nations Charter by Syria, the Union has decided to adopt additional restrictive measures against the Syrian regime.”

A suspension limited to oil

The decision then implemented by the EU was the partial suspension of the Cooperation Agreement “until the Syrian authorities put an end to the systematic violations of human rights and can once again be considered to respect general international law.” What was the partial suspension? The EU’s intention was to focus “solely on the Syrian authorities and not the people of Syria”, so it limited the cancellation of the text: “Given that at the present time crude oil and petroleum products are the most traded products “benefits the Syrian regime, thereby supporting its policies of repression, the suspension of the Cooperation Agreement should be limited to crude oil and petroleum products.”

A few months later, in February 2012, the punishment was extended due to “the worsening situation in Syria.” “Given that gold, precious metals and diamonds are products whose trade particularly benefits the Syrian regime, thereby supporting its policies of repression, the suspension should be extended to also apply to trade in such materials,” the Council stated at the time. of the EU. From there, a cascade of sanctions began in the following years that have affected 287 people and 70 entities, which cannot travel to community territory and whose assets are immobilized.

In the case of Israel, the EU has not even been able to agree to sanction violent settlers in the West Bank, as, for example, the United States has done. The high representative, Josep Borrell, put a proposal on the table aware that the required unanimity is difficult to achieve.

“A matter of political appreciation”

With Syria there is, therefore, a precedent that EU trade agreements with third countries can be suspended for human rights violations or violations of international law, such as is happening in Israel and more and more Western leaders recognize. However, the ‘mirror’ is not exactly the same, given that the massacre of the Al Assad regime was against the Syrian population in a confrontation that led to a civil war, while Benjamin Netanyahu’s attacks are against the Palestinian people after the Hamas attacks of October 7 that led the EU to appeal to the right to self-defense. The similarities have to do with the killing of civilians and the siege of the population with difficulties even in accessing humanitarian aid, that is, with the violation of rights themselves.

And what lies ahead now in the case of the EU with Israel? “The decision to suspend an agreement is taken by the Council, either on a proposal from the High Representative or from the Commission, based on the content of the agreement in question and whether there are grounds for suspension. In this case, it is a matter of political assessment that must be made by the Council at the initiative of the High Representative, since it is a matter of foreign policy, and unanimity in the Council would be necessary in principle for the suspension of the entire agreement.” , explained this Thursday the Foreign Affairs spokesperson of the European Commission, Nabila Massrali. Community sources specify that the foreign policy part would require the consensus of the member states, but that if it were a partial suspension that affected trade, for example, only a qualified majority would be necessary.

For now, the community government is limited to acknowledging receipt of the request from Spain and Ireland to take steps against Israel while the Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, has been optimistic about the possibility of measures being taken due to the “excess of the rules of international and humanitarian law and the UN charter” on the part of Israel: “The high representative has been very clear in his criticism of what is happening in Palestine. Therefore, the position of the high representative is absolutely in line with that of Spain.” Borrell, who is responsible for taking the step, did not want to go into the substance of the matter: “We are studying the letter from the prime ministers and I will soon be able to tell you something about it.”

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