At last week’s conference in Brussels on Syria, pledges totalling €8.3 billion for 2019-20 and beyond were made. Of the overall pledge, around two thirds come from the EU which has contributed a total of €6.79 billion: €2.57 billion from the EU budget managed by the European Commission and €4.22 billion from EU Member States. Out of the €2.57 billion from EU budget, €2.01 billion is committed for 2019 while €560 million has already been committed for 2020 for people in need inside Syria and in the region. The EU and its Member States are the largest donor addressing the consequences of the Syrian crisis and have mobilised around €17 billion since the beginning of the crisis in 2011 in overall support.
The situation inside Syria remains critical, with 11.7 million Syrians in need of protection and humanitarian assistance. A further 5.6 million Syrian refugees are in neighbouring countries.
The Foreign Ministers meeting on 14 March counted on representatives from 79 delegations, from the EU and the region, regional and international organisation, NGOs and civil society. The role of Syria’s women was also given particular prominence. Women accounted for nearly half of the participants at the Days of Dialogue that took place in the European Parliament.
“Our goal remains the same: a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political process, facilitated by the United Nations, to establish an inclusive and non-sectarian governance for a united Syria, “said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. “This is what we are all trying to work for and this is also the main reason why we convened the Brussels Conference. “
But this is the crux of the matter. After having defeated the forces that rebelled against his dictatorship and retained control of most of the country, with the aid of Russia, Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah, Syrian president Bashar Assad is hardly inclined to embark on any political transition and make any concessions to the opposition.
“The war is not over,” Assad said last month. The millions of refugees are not welcome back to Syria and do not dare to return if they belong to the wrong religious sect or minority group. Without a political transition process, EU will not provide any assistance for the reconstruction of Syria and the solemn pledges made in Brussels will not be implemented.
The conference was hosted by the EU and co-chaired by the United Nations. In a joint statement, the participants and the donor community admitted that conditions inside Syria do not lend themselves to the promotion or facilitation of organised voluntary returns in conditions of safety and dignity in line with international law.
The statement describes the political process as aiming to end the conflict in Syria, establish credible and inclusive, non-sectarian governance and set a process for drafting a new constitution paving the way towards free and fair elections under UN supervision, including the diaspora. It also says that the international community is committed to the preservation of Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.
Whether Syria, which was from the beginning was carved out as an artificial state by European colonial powers, can be preserved as a unitary state, without autonomy to minority groups who fought against both Assad and the Islamic State, was apparently not discussed.