EU ministers likely to back chemical weapon sanctions against Syria

EU and UK Brexit negotiators will also gather in Brussels for the first formal week of talks

EU foreign ministers are expected to hear a call on Monday from the UK for additional sanctions against the Syrian regime over its use of chemical weapons against insurgents. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson will call for new measures against senior military officers and Syria Scientific Studies and Research Centre scientists believed to be involved in the use of such weapons.

There has been a series of chemical weapon attacks by the Syrian regime, and today’s sanctions do not relate to one specific attack, but sarin nerve gas was allegedly used in an attack on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4th, which killed approximately 100 people and injured many more. The UK’s assessment is that the Assad regime almost certainly carried out this attack.

Meanwhile EU and UK Brexit negotiators will gather in Brussels for the first formal week of talks, a combination of technical working group sessions and plenary meetings. The initial “political” discussion on Ireland and Border issues is scheduled for Tuesday morning.


The Foreign Affairs Council meeting will reflect the continuing expansion of the union's security and defence (CSDP) role. Gone are the days when FAC's simply passed declarations; the EU is now in the business increasingly of exercising "soft power" – and not-so-soft power – on the world stage.


Ministers will also agree to extend the mandate for the EU’s naval operation in the Mediterranean, EUNavfor Med, known as “Operation Sophia”, to which the Dáil on Thursday committed Naval Service vessels .

The operation, in which 25 member-states are involved, is directed against human smugglers and traffickers is more proactive than the humanitarian search and rescue mission that Irish naval vessels have been involved in up to now, the Italian-led Operation Pontus.

Sophia involves active attempts to disrupt the business of traffickers, seizing boats and assets, enforcing the UN arms embargo, and training the Libyan coastguard.

The mission search and rescue role was praised last week by a House of Lords committee which however strongly attacked the policy of destroying smugglers’ boats. The peers say an unintended consequence has been that they have adapted and sent refugees and migrants to sea in unseaworthy vessels, leading to more deaths. The Sophia strategy, they claimed, means 70 per cent of all boats leaving the Libyan coast are now dinghies, has made the crossing increasingly dangerous for migrants


The number of recorded casualties on the central Mediterranean route – between Libya and Italy – rose by 42 per cent to more than 4,500 people drowning in 2016 compared with 3,175 in 2015. So far in 2017 there have been 2,150 deaths.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will report on his trip to the Middle East last week and the council will agree to send an EU civilian CSDP team to Iraq, probably two-dozen-strong, to advise the government on the reform of its security services in the country's stabilisation phase following the fall of Mosul. Ireland will assess its involvement when the call for participants goes out.

Ministers will also debate and condemn in strong language North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test, believed by intelligence sources to have had inter-continental range capacity. Discussions are ongoing about stepping up sanctions.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times