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EU to impose oil embargo on Syria

Officials say cutting €3bn annual lifeline and in effect halting all business between Syria and EU will be serious blow to regime

Europe is to impose an oil embargo on Syria, in effective freezing almost all business between Damascus and the EU, Syria’s main trading partner.

Political agreement among EU states was expected in Brussels on Tuesday, meaning the sanctions would come into force on Friday, said diplomats and officials. The decision will halt more than €3bn (£2.6bn) a year in Syrian crude oil and petroleum products being exported to Europe.

“This is trying to hit the oil that’s a critical financial lifeline to the regime,” said an EU official.

While the move will barely have any impact on EU energy needs, it is likely to hurt elite business and government circles in Damascus close to the regime of the president, Bashar al-Assad, since Syria’s trade relationship with Europe is almost entirely oil-based.

The EU imports only 1.5% of its crude oil from Syria. But 92% of Syrian exports to Europe are energy products. Syria exported crude oil and petroleum products worth €3.1bn to the EU last year, according to European commission figures. Royal Dutch Shell and the French company Total are the two biggest European players in the Syrian energy market.

The embargo will not stop firms doing business with Damascus, EU officials said, but will prevent them from marketing Syrian oil in Europe.

Separately, EU governments are to decide next week on whether to impose an investment ban on European companies operating in Syria, particularly in the energy sector.

In Brussels, officials from the 27 member states discussed proposals banning all European investment in Syria’s energy industry and freezing the supply of equipment, for example, for oil drilling.

The US has already imposed an oil embargo and investment ban on Syria as part of the mounting pressure on Assad to ease his brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests. The US move was seen as largely symbolic, while the EU embargo will have a much bigger impact.

Lady Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, accused the Assad regime of “brutal repression”, “barbarism”, and “reckless and indiscriminate violence”.

The EU has already blacklisted leading regime figures, banning them from travelling in Europe and freezing their assets. Last week the EU extended the blacklist by a further 15 people and five companies. However, the oil embargo is seen as a more substantive move.

The west’s attempts to tighten global sanctions against Assad through a UN security council resolution are being thwarted by Russian and Chinese opposition.

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