Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

MEPs call on Syrian opposition to unite in preparing for post-Assad regime

European Parliament News - 19 June 2012

Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs called on the Syrian opposition to unite and present a common vision for the transition to a post-Assad regime, in a debate with Syrian opposition activists on Tuesday. MEPs also voiced their frustration that the international community is failing to halt the massacres in Syria, but did not agree on the desirability of external military intervention in the country.

The Syrian opposition needs to embark on a platform with a common goal - to send clear signals about the main direction and principles of the transition to a new regime in Syria once President Bashar al-Assad is gone, many MEPs told Syrian opposition activists. "The Syrian opposition is so fragmented. The opposition in Libya united in their fight against a dictator", said Ana Gomes (S&D, PT), calling the Syrians to follow their example.

Democracy activist and former judge Haitman al-Maleh warned that despite the continuing massacres perpetrated by the regime, which he said had cost over 20,000 lives and created1.5 million refugees, "the Syrian regime can collapse like a house of cards. It can disappear in a way that can surprise you all."

Opposition leader Kamal al-Labwani, who was jailed by the Assad regime from 2005 to 2011, said that "what is happening in Syria is not just a crisis that needs to be stopped by any means. It is a real revolution". The Syrian people is seeking a "total change in the system but also in the culture of the country," he added. Like Mr al-Maleh, he rejected any dialogue with the current regime.

Syrian National Council member Husam Al-Katlaby,underlined that the regime change requires increased EU pressure on Russia to call for Mr al-Assad's exit and also EU help with Syria's transition to democracy. "We would like more aid from the EU to the activists", so that "they are safe when they demonstrate," he said.

Several MEPs voiced concerns about the potential religious component or its instrumentalisation in the conflict. "The new Syria must respect all religious groups," Mr al-Labwani said. Mr al-Maleh added that there was no mention of religion in Syria's constitution, "as in the case of Iraq, Egypt or Lebanon. There are no dogmatic religious communities in Syria", he stressed.

The "Kofi Annan plan was dead in the water", said Josť Ignacio Salafranca (EPP, ES), wondering whether "a proliferation of contact groups is a viable solution". Most other MEPs, with some exceptions including Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL, ES), agreed that, the Annan plan was indeed dead.

MEPs did not agree on how best to engage Russia or on the appropriateness of external military intervention. While some argued that there was a responsibility to protect Syria's population, even without a UN Security Council mandate (in the absence of a move by Russia), others countered that despite moral pressure to halt massacres in the country, intervention was still not an option.

Charles Tannock (ECR, UK), wondered whether Turkey could act on its own, under the responsibility to protect, and whether a no-fly zone "would be possible given the anti-air raid systems recently deployed by Russia in Syria".

Annemie Neyts (ALDE, BE) and the Syrian opposition activists stressed that the decision as to limited military intervention constituted a real "dilemma."