The statements from American, Canadian, British, French, German, and EU leaders demanding that Assad step down are a welcome step, but if the words are to mean anything, Europe has to step up. The Obama administration has announced fresh sanctions on Syrian oil, but as this Financial Times analysis explains, those are mostly symbolic:
The US has almost no involvement in Syria’s energy sector but Europe has an outsize influence, buying an estimated 95 per cent of the country’s crude exports and accounting for its biggest foreign investors.
Royal Dutch Shell and France’s Total are both big players on the production side, while operator Gulfsands Petroleum moved its base from Houston to the UK in 2008 to avoid US sanctions on Rami Makhlouf, Mr Assad’s cousin and a stockholder in the company.
Furthermore, most of the 148,000 barrels a day of “Souedie” crude oil that Syria exports go to Europe to be refined by companies in Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands. If the EU follows the US’s lead, those sales would have to stop.
The EU will consider sanctions when senior diplomats meet on Friday and American officials, having failed to persuade European countries to move with the US on Thursday, are hoping that energy measures will be high on its list of options.
Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has been arguing for months that European sanctions are the key to hitting Assad where it hurts; because most countries don’t have the capacity to refine Souedie crude, Syrian oil is especially vulnerable to a boycott. The US Embassy in Damascus pointedly posted a link to this interview with Tabler on its Facebook page Wednesday, so it’s clear that, as the FT report says, the administration is indeed rather openly pushing for this line of action. Will Europe put its money where its mouth is? We’ll see what happens after that EU meeting today.