The Assad regime has inched closer to winning the Syrian conflict during 2018. With Russian and Iranian support, the regime has reestablished strong and authoritarian rule, at least outside the deescalation zones where its remit is still curtailed.
With a new UN envoy to Syria now taking office and the EU confirming it will host another donor conference for the country early in 2019 – designed to mobilise humanitarian aid and other assistance from the international community – there is currently much debate about a new phase of European strategy. But at best, European influence in Syria will in future be modest and indirect.
The Assad regime’s ascendancy has certainly pushed the EU and European governments onto the back foot. The formal EU line is that the removal of its sanctions against Syria and any offer of so-called reconstruction aid will depend on the Assad regime agreeing to an inclusive political process. And so, as the regime for now refuses to contemplate any such process and has in fact moved to ensure that only regime supporters get access to external funding, the EU has not offered reconstruction aid.