Syria participated in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Euromed) until the outbreak of violence in 2011 which led to the suspension of the associations agreements. After the deployment of the Syrian Armed Forces to quell the protests, the EU imposed an arms embargo on the Syrian regime on 9 May 2011, followed by a ban on Syrian oil and oil product imports in September of the same year. These sanctions were compounded by the freezing of financial assets and certain enterprises and infrastructure programs. Before the war, the EU was Syria's first trading partner with total bilateral trade amounting to approximately €6.1 billion, a figure that shrank to €1.4 billion in 2012 after the implementation of the sanctions.
Reaching a political consensus on the economic sanctions was a relatively smooth process due to the fact that the EU energy market did not depend too heavily on Syrian oil. In April 2013, the EU eased the Syrian oil embargo provided that the export activities did not benefit the regime and were conducted after consultation with the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (SNC). Although this provision was meant to sustain the moderate SNC, it sparked criticism as it unleashed a scramble for control over wells and pipelines in rebel-held areas, with the risk of better organised jihadist groups taking control of the oil facilities and their revenues.
Although the CFSP provided an adequately coherent policy framework with regards to the economic sanctions, it could not align the member states' divergent positions over the material support to the armed resistance. As the Syrian army regained positions, France and the UK urged to lift the arms embargo in favour of the rebel forces. In an editorial hosted by the daily Libération on 13 March 2013, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius called to back the SNC, adding that sustaining the moderate opposition would also dismiss the growing influence of the jihadist militias. Fabius openly denounced Iran and Russia for arming the regime and stated that France and the UK might act outside the CFSP framework, making clear that “France is a sovereign nation”.
Issued before a European Council called to decide on the arms embargo, these statements symbolize how member states retain the first and the last word on strategies and instruments of their foreign and security policy. Yet, the CFSP constitutes a power multiplier for the national foreign policies that cannot be ignored, more so if consensus is achieved in the Council. In the Syrian case however, French activism was met by scepticism within the European Council. Germany led the non-interventionist countries pointing out that lifting the arms embargo would lead to a regional arms race. Germany also expressed concerns about a spillover of arms to Islamist militias, recalling the arms smuggling from Libya that fuelled Mali's civil war. Eventually, the EU's embargo on arms was partially lifted starting from June 2013.
The chemical weapons issue comprised a new stage in the Syrian crisis, becoming the object of a diplomatic tug of war between Russia - Assad's major patron - and the USA. Finally, the confrontation in the UN Security Council between the USA, France, and the UK on one side and Russia, supported by China on the other, ended with the commitment of Assad to hand over his chemical arsenal. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton offered member states technical assistance with implementing the weapons destruction. According to diplomatic sources, the idea of an internationally monitored destruction of Damascus' chemical arsenal could have originated in a meeting of eight Nordic and Baltic foreign ministers in Visby, Sweden, on 4 September2013, after Ashton's pressuring to convene an EU-level debate fell on deaf ears. Notably, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski claimed to have lobbied since the end of August 2013 for the chemical weapons plan with both Washington and Moscow.
Within the EU, France stood as the major supporter of a military solution, a position that was reinforced when British Prime Minister, David Cameron, saw its motion on military action rejected by the parliament. Moreover, NATO secretary general, Rasmussen, recently stated that any military intervention in Syria would not require NATO command and control systems, beyond existing plans to protect Turkey from retaliation. As a consequence, any operation would basically rely on the combined US and French military assets in the Mediterranean, with the possible involvement of Turkey. The convergence of French and US policies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) represents an important development in the Euro-Atlantic relationship and regional crisis management. The coordination and sharing of responsibilities between the two sides of the Atlantic is one of the tenets fixed in the French White Paper on Defense and National Security of 2008 and reaffirmed in the 2013 White Paper.
France's position as an autonomous though valuable U.S. ally in the MENA region matches the policy of military disengagement and consequent empowerment of regional allies pursued by the Obama presidency. Nevertheless, France’s dynamism contrasts with the stance of other important EU member states that are equally affected by the dramatic events on the opposite shores of the Mediterranean. Italy is a good example due to its economic and political role in the region. With 1174 troops in Lebanon, Italy has been the leading European contingent and the commander of the mission of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) since January 2012. So extensive is its presence that Rome expressed concerns about the decision to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on the EU terror blacklist in July 2013 in consideration of its troops in southern Lebanon. During the chemical weapons crisis, Italy assumed a “wait and see” attitude, binding the military intervention in Syria to a UN mandate. As in the case of Libya, Italy followed, not without scepticism, the pace imposed by France to diplomatic and military developments, finding itself confined to the role of decision maker. This can be explained by two intertwined reasons: the sovereign debt crisis absorbed most of the political leadership's energies and the prevalent internal political instability certainly prevented the formation of a coherent and proactive external policy. Italy's inability to keep abreast of Paris' activism highlights once again the peripheral role of southern Europe even when dramatic events are taking place at its doors.
The scale of these events can be measured in terms of the populations displaced by this humanitarian catastrophe. More than 4,600 Syrians have arrived in Italy by sea since the beginning of 2013, two thirds of whom only arrived in August. In Greece, 11,000 Syrians have been arrested for crossing the borders without permission since the conflict started. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) the number of Syrian refugees surpassed two million in September 2013, 97% of whom are hosted by countries in the immediate surrounding region. Since the beginning of the Arab uprisings in 2011, Europe saw the first increase in asylum-seeker numbers in several years. The top two receiving countries are Germany and France followed by Sweden, Italy, and the Netherlands. Germany and Sweden are also the countries receiving more asylum applications made by Syrians. Since 2012, Sweden has taken in some 14,700 asylum seekers from Syria and in September 2013, Stockholm announced that it would give asylum to all Syrian refugees who applied.
In a recent Greek-Italian bilateral meeting, Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino stressed that prioritizing the Mediterranean region on the EU political agenda was “not optional” and emphasized that its problems and opportunities are relevant to the whole of Europe. Greece and Italy will hold the EU presidency in the first and second semester of 2014 respectively. Putting the Mediterranean at the centre of the CFSP, playing a proactive role in the resolution of the regional crisis, and facing the humanitarian emergency are all major challenges not only for Rome and Athens but also for Brussels. The decision-making process in European governance results from the interplay between supranational and transnational institutions as well as from between European institutions and member states. In particular, the CFSP is the domain where decisions are taken according to the intergovernmental method. Simply put, the CFSP relies on input from the member states, with their consensus providing credibility and consistency to the CFSP's objectives and actions. States retain full sovereignty in defining and pursuing their national interests as well as the capabilities to enforce the CFSP. In the light of these considerations, the EU demonstrated consistency when it came to condemning and economically sanctioning the Assad regime. However, with the possibility of a military intervention looming, diplomatic prerogatives -like the veto power in the UN Security Council- and the creative contribution of national diplomacies have inevitably re-cast the role of single member states into the foreground.
All links accessed on 8 October 2013
 Council Decision with the Decision 2011/273/CFSP of 9 May 2011 concerning restrictive measures against Syria, 2011 O.J. (L 121) 11 http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:121:0011:0014:EN:PDF and Council of the European Union, “Council bans import of Syrian oil, Brussels”, (02/09/2011) http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/124495.pdf
 Energy goods represented around 90% of Syria's export to the EU in 2011, Italy and Germany representing together around 60% of Syrian oil export, followed by France and the Netherlands. Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, French Total and Hungarian MOL Nyrt constituted the top European oil companies most involved in Syria's oil industry. http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/syria/ and Norman, Laurence, “EU Implements Syria Oil Embargo”, The Wall Street Journal (03/09/2011) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904716604576548643198281286.html
 In the period 2002-2010 Syria accounted for less than 1% of the EU's annual import of crude oil. By way of comparison, in the same period, Libya constantly grew its share from 7.5% in 2002 to 10.2% in 2010, constituting the EU third oil supplier behind Russia and Norway with further development prospects also for its natural gas reserves. Eurostat, “Main origin of primary energy imports, EU-27, 2002-2010 (% of extra EU-27 imports)” http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php?title=File:Main_origin_of_primary_energy_imports,_EU-27,_2002-2010_%28%25_of_extra_EU-27_imports%29.png&filetimestamp=20121012131852
 Council Decision 2013/186/CFSP of 22 April 2013 amending Decision 2012/739/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against Syria, 2013 O.J. (L 111) 101 http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2013:111:0101:0102:EN:PDF
 Borger, Julian and Mahmood, Mona, “EU decision to lift Syrian oil sanctions boosts jihadist groups”, The Guardian, (19/05/2013) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/19/eu-syria-oil-jihadist-al-qaida
 Fabius, Laurent, “En Syrie, nous devons avancer”, Libération, (13/03/2013). http://www.liberation.fr/monde/2013/03/13/en-syrie-nous-devons-avancer_888315 and France Info, “Fabius affirme que la France pourrait livrer des armes aux ribelles Syriens”, (14/03/2013) http://www.franceinfo.fr/monde/les-invites-de-france-info/fabius-affirme-que-la-france-pourrait-livrer-des-armes-aux-rebelles-syriens-919447-2013
 Griffiths, Peter and Pawlak, Justyna, “EU rejects Franco-British push to arm Syrian rebels”, Reuters, (15/03/2013) http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/15/us-syria-crisis-idUSBRE92E09J20130315
 Council Decision 2013/255/CFSP 31 May 2013 concerning restrictive measures against Syria, 2013 O.J. (L 147) 14 http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2013:147:0014:0045:EN:PDF
 Statement by EU HR Ashton following the US-Russian agreement on chemical weapons in Syria, (14/09/2013) http://www.eu-un.europa.eu/articles/en/article_13938_en.htm
 Day, Matthew and McElroy, Damien, “Syria: Polish foreign minister takes credit for chemical weapons plan”, The Telegraph, (11/09/2013) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10301640/Syria-Polish-foreign-minister-takes-credit-for-chemical-weapons-plan.html and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of Poland, “MFA statement on proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control”, (12/09/2013) http://www.mfa.gov.pl/en/news/mfa_statement_on_proposal_to_put_syrian_chemical_weapons_under_international_control_
 The vote constituted a major setback for prime minister David Cameron, in which the defection of thirty conservative MPs played a decisive role. BBC, “Syria crisis: Cameron loses Commons vote on Syria action”, (30/08/2013) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23892783
 The Jerusalem Post / Reuters, “NATO: military intervention in Syria 'still on the table'”, (19/09/2013) http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/NATO-Military-intervention-in-Syria-still-on-the-table-326540
 Council on foreign Relations, “French Government: White Paper on Defense and National Security”, (29/04/2013) http://www.cfr.org/france/french-government-white-paper-defense-national-security/p16615 and Hollande, François, “Le Livre Blanc 2013 rendu public”, Ministère de la Défense, (July 15, 2013) http://www.defense.gouv.fr/actualites/articles/livre-blanc-2013
 As of 19 June 2013 UNIFIL's force consists of a total 10819 peacekeepers from 37 troop-contributing countries. http://unifil.unmissions.org/Default.aspx?tabid=11552&language=en-US
 ANSAmed, “Terrorism: EU to blacklist Hezbollah armed wing”, (22/07/2013) http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/nations/italy/2013/07/22/Terrorism-EU-blacklist-Hezbollah-armed-wing_9057427.html and ANSAmed, “Lebanon: Hezbollah-EU, concerns for Italian UN troops”, (23/07/2013) http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/nations/italy/2013/07/23/Lebanon-Hezbollah-EU-concerns-Italian-troops_9064642.html
 ANSAmed, “Syria: intervention unthinkable without UN, says Bonino”, (26/08/2013) http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/ministry/2013/08/26/Syria-intervention-unthinkable-UN-says-Bonino_9201610.html
 Both France and Italy dwelt close-knit ties with Gaddafi's Libya, reinforced by the friendly relationships between the Libyan leader with Sarkozy and Berlusconi (prime minister in 2011). However, Sarkozy proved fleeter in understanding that Gaddafi's time was over. Finally, France successfully promoted and led the UN authorised military intervention, retaining the command of its forces (Opération Harmattan), while Italy's participation was subordinated to the US led Operation Odyssey Down.
 Since 2011 Italy changed three governments, though all three supported by the two major parties of the centre-left and the centre-right, in a grand coalition held together only by the economic emergency.
 Birnbaum, Michael, “Syrian refugees find little help in Greece”, The Washington Post (17/06/2013) http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-06-17/world/40025136_1_syrian-refugees-petros-mastakas-greece-s
http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/syria.php and UNHCR, “2013 UNHCR regional operations profile - Northern, Western, Central and Southern Europe” http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/page?page=49e48e5f6&submit=GO As at January 2013, the first nine EU countries in terms of resident persons recognised as refugees and asylum seekers (in parentheses) were: Germany 589,737 (85,560); France 217,865 (49,885); UK 149,765 (18,916); Sweden 98,872 (18,014); Netherlands 74,598 (10,420); Italy 64,779 (14,330); Austria 51,730 (22,429); Belgium 22,024 (15,036); Greece 2,100 (36,183).
 AFP, “Sweden grants blanket asylum to Syrian refugees”, (03/09/2013) http://www.france24.com/en/20130903-sweden-grants-blanket-asylum-syrian-refugees
 Joint statements of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Venizelos and Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, following their meeting in Rome, (17/09/2013) http://www.mfa.gr/en/current-affairs/top-story/joint-statements-of-deputy-prime-minister-and-foreign-minister-venizelos-and-italian-foreign-minister-emma-bonino-following-their-meeting-in-rome.html