After years of delay, the text of the EU’s association agreementwith Syria has been finalised and will be signed on October 26. The move is seen partly as a reward to the Damascus regime for progress so far and also as a way of encouraging further changes in its behaviour.
The last few months have brought a general thaw in Syria’s international relations. In 2002, John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations, included Syria along with Cuba and Libya in an expanded list of “axis of evil” countries which originally consisted of Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Relations between Europe and Syria reached a low point in 2004 with the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
The US still maintains sanctions against Syria but has gradually begun easing them.
EU association agreements are mainly about developing economic ties but they also include clauses on political development and respect for human rights.
Under the agreement, Syria will be required to meet international human rights standards and in theory violations will “directly affect the application of the agreement”.
In the Middle East and North Africa, the EU already has association agreements with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, and Tunisia. It does monitor human rights performance in these countries but, on the whole, doesn’t press them very hard.
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 12 October 2009.