Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

EC-Syria Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement

Delivered in Plenary - 25th October 2006

Madam President

The EU’s strategic interest with Syria is maintaining peace in the wider Middle East so that oil flows, and to steer the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians towards a durable two-state solution settlement, as detailed in Mrs De Keyser’s report.

Isolated Syria has for some time been helping Iran launch a combined pan-Islamic offensive on Israel, and Syria seeks to keep the Lebanese Government weak by strongly backing Iran’s proxy Hezbollah, which Syria believes will also help re-establish its influence in Lebanon.

Nevertheless, Syria has one redeeming feature: it is a secular country that recoils from Islamic fundamentalism, and parts of the ruling Ba’ath elite worry about Syria’s deepening defence alliance with theocratic Iran and Islamist Hezbollah. Syria no longer needs to cosy up to Iran in its old alliance against their common enemy, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Regrettably, hopes are now fading that the EU can deal directly with the Palestinians under an intransigent Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel or forswear violence. The time is therefore now ripe to offer assurances to Syria that blocking Hezbollah’s re-armament, stopping jihadi fighters’ passage into Iraq and improving Syria’s appalling human rights record would bring valuable benefits, including the eventual ratification of the strengthened association agreement with the EU.

The EU, as a member of the Quartet, can also help broker an acceptable peace agreement between Israel and Syria over the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms where the US may be unwilling. Israel would gain much by talking to its enemy, Syria. Conscious of its vulnerability to rocket attacks, Israel knows that it needs a defensible state, safe from external aggression. Removing Syria as a threat is a key element in achieving this strategic objective. But I endorse the findings of the report and I am hopeful now that the European Union will look to using its considerable leverage over Syria to achieve these objectives