Brussels VIII Conference: European support intentions do not dispel Syrian fears

Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region - April 30, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

Brussels VIII Conference: European support intentions do not dispel Syrian fears

Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region - April 30, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region - April 30, 2024 (Enab Baladi)


Jana al-Issa | Hassan Ibrahim | Hani Abdullah

In its eighth edition, which carried some differences from the previous seven years, the European Union held the Brussels conference to support the future of Syria and the region on April 30.

Over the years, the conference was conducted over two days, the first of which involved dialogue with various Syrian civil society organizations, and on the second day, the foreign ministers of the donor countries announced the financial commitments to be provided to Syria and the neighboring host countries of Syrian refugees.

This year’s conference methodology differed, as a longer period was allocated for dialogue with civil society organizations, allowing for a variety of issues and topics to be discussed within the conference program or through side events held by Syrian organizations, while the meeting of foreign ministers of donor countries was postponed to May 27 of this year.

Enab Baladi explores in this lengthy report the opinions of experts and figures who physically attended this year’s Brussels 8th conference, about the issues that were focused on during the discussions at the conference, and the extent of their touch on the possibility of significant changes in financial or political support for Syria.

On the agenda:

Early recovery, Resolution 2254, and missing persons

Most Syrians question the effectiveness and reliability of relying on the conference to advance the politically stagnant situation in Syria, which has been the case for years, like any conference or meeting involving international and regional parties concerned or engaged in the Syrian matter.

The conference was attended by a diverse array of Syrian civil society organizations, with about 800 people, including European political figures, as well as representatives of UN partner organizations in Syria and host countries for Syrian refugees.

The day of dialogue with civil society included discussions on several topics with the presence of specialized Syrian figures.

Topics discussed during the dialogue day within six sessions included:

  • Implementing Security Council Resolution 2254: Current status and the way forward
  • Enacting meaningful change: Investing in the Syrian healthcare workforce
  • Education in emergencies: Obstacles and opportunities for access to education. Youth perspectives
  • Enhancing the sustainability of basic services and livelihood opportunities for refugees and host communities in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.
  • Humanitarian assistance and effective protection as drivers for supporting resilience and early recovery in the context of the prolonged crisis in Syria.
  • Justice, peace, and the right to truth: Addressing the cases of the missing and detained as a fundamental condition for future reconciliation.

Alongside the agenda, the conference witnessed several events organized by Syrian civil society organizations on various issues, including legal, social, political, and economic.

Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region - April 30, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region – April 30, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

Increased Syrian presence and decreased Western representation

During a special media session attended by Enab Baladi, a day before the Brussels 8th Conference, Alessio Cappellani, Head of Middle East – Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, European External Action Service (EEAS), said that about 300 Syrians were invited to attend the dialogue day on April 30, and that 100 of them were coming from Syria, while Enab Baladi noted dozens of activists engaged in civil work from Syrians who arrived to participate in the conference’s parallel events.

Cappellani confirmed the presence of official representatives from the United Nations and the European Union, but observers noted a decline in the level of international diplomatic representation during the day of dialogue at the conference.

Mohammad al-Abdallah, Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC), told Enab Baladi that the general character of the conference bore a lesser political focus on Syria amid a lack of international leadership in finding a political solution.

Al-Abdallah mentioned that the indications of reduced focus included the reduced presence of Western diplomatic representation, unlike previous years.

He believes that the decrease in diplomatic representation may be linked to the postponement of the ministerial meeting of donor countries, which usually took place after the dialogue day, though this year it was postponed for about a month following the day of dialogue.


The conference was weak and fell short of the Syrian aspirations and needs at least for a leading political role, with nothing new being noted, but rather a repetition of previous positions.

Mohammad al-Abdallah, Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center 


The Executive Director of Baytna Syria, Assaad al-Achi, mentioned that the conference had the highest attendance rate of Syrians and Syrian women compared to the previous seven conferences; however, the downside was that most of the speakers during the conference sessions were representatives of international organizations or the United Nations, thus the increase in the number of Syrian participants did not reflect an increase in their engagement and participation.

In turn, Mounzer al-Sallal, Executive Director of the Stabilization Support Unit, told Enab Baladi that the initial impression of the Brussels conference showed an interest in representing Syrians on the day of dialogue, as large numbers of Syrians were invited to attend the conference, in addition to providing facilitations for their arrival in Brussels, and invitations were sent to Syrians inside the country who managed to arrive for the conference.

Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), confirmed the conference’s declining rhetoric, performance, and diplomatic representation of its Western attendees.

In his talk with Enab Baladi, Abdul Ghany criticized the selection mechanism of participating organizations since the conference focuses primarily on the humanitarian aspect, yet this year organizations unrelated to this matter or connected topics participated.

Abdul Ghany did not observe a change in political support for Syria, as the political messages remained the same regarding not restoring relations with the regime, and the countries still maintain their stances on holding the regime accountable, without any advanced discourse towards a political solution in Syria.

He pointed out a decline in financial support through the Brussels conference, as the pledges do not meet the level of needs, and on the other hand, the countries may not fulfill their financial commitments at all.

Brussels ministerial postponement

Syrians and decision-making circles interested in Syrian affairs are awaiting May 27th to learn about the extent of support that donors will announce, as well as the European political stance towards the Syrian file.

In turn, the Charge d’Affaires of the European Union to Syria, Dan Stoenescu, justified the postponement of the ministerial meeting, attributing it to several reasons.

Stoenescu explained that the European Union chose for the first time to separate the ministerial event from the Civil Society Dialogue Day, to ensure high-level representation and provide a longer period of ongoing events focused on the Syrian crisis.

He continued that the purpose of the postponement is to improve the integration of the Dialogue Day outputs into the ministerial discussion, as the rapporteurs from various teams organized during the Dialogue Day will be invited to the ministerial part to share the results of the Dialogue Day with their preliminary remarks.


We chose for the first time to separate the ministerial event from the Civil Society Dialogue Day, to ensure high-level representation, and provide a longer period of ongoing events focused on the Syrian crisis.

Dan Stoenescu, Charge d’Affaires of the European Union to Syria

The Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region - April 30, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

The Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region – April 30, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

European acknowledgment of a political solution stalemate

During the special press session, Alessio Cappellani, Head of the Middle East Division at the European External Action Service (EEAS), stated, “The political solution in Syria is stalled by the Syrian regime, which hinders access to political solutions,” disrupting the Constitutional Committee negotiations for two years.

Cappellani considered that “Bashar al-Assad does not respond to the requirements of the Arab initiative,” affirming that “the European Union is speaking with partners,” referring to Arab countries that are pushing towards normalizing relations with the Syrian regime, but he reaffirmed support for United Nations resolutions in this regard.

Cappellani also mentioned that the European Union is striving to continue negotiations in the Constitutional Committee and focuses in discussions on the issue of the international mechanism for searching for missing persons and who is responsible for their disappearance.

Support for the opposition, Present for the first time

It was noticeable that the official opposition, through the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC), attended and was active in the conference for the first time in years. They participated in the general sessions of the conference and some side sessions on the margins of the conference. They also organized a cultural event entitled “For the Detainees”.

The president of the SNC, Badr Jamous, stated during the conference that the international community needs to genuinely pressure the Syrian regime. He called for all countries to take a firm stance, arguing that Western sanctions are insufficient and that it is impossible to continue without a political solution in Syria, and the implementation of the UN resolution 2254, considering it the only path capable of restoring stability and safety to Syria and ending the suffering of the Syrian people.

A member of the Syrian Negotiations Commission and the head of the detainees committee, Alice Mufarrej, told Enab Baladi that this was the first time the Negotiations Commission officially participated in this conference as a main speaker, and the invitation of its leadership to be present at the core of the conference and its activities constitutes a clear political stance by the European Union that it supports the SNC, which is considered another address in any negotiating process with the Syrian regime, and internationally recognized as a partner in the negotiation for a political solution according to the Geneva statement and the international resolution 2254.

She added that this political support was also reflected in the intensive meetings held by the envoys of the countries with the leadership of the Negotiations Commission and its delegation. It was an opportunity to emphasize the partnership in shaping the Syrian solution among all tracks, their interdependence, and their integration in the recommendations.

In response to a question from Enab Baladi about any reliance on the Brussels conference in moving the Syrian political file, Mufarrej said that the European Union is in constant contact with the Syrian opposition, especially the Negotiations Commission concerned with the file of the political, negotiating solution, knowing its responsiveness and its coherence with all international resolutions, and its readiness for a negotiating process aimed at political change in Syria according to resolution 2254, and knows its seriousness in dealing with this matter and its constant efforts to move this file, which the regime has been trying to obstruct for years and evading any commitment to a political solution.

Mufarrej sees the conference as an opportunity for Europeans to hear the Syrian voices, the voices of civil society, organizations, unions, and guilds, and an opportunity to witness the partnership in objectives and harmony in efforts between the Negotiations Commission and this civil society. This confirms to the Europeans that support for the main political forces concerned with international and UN resolutions must continue, and support the efforts of the United Nations to achieve a political, negotiating solution according to Security Council resolutions.

Mufarrej mentioned that the opposition felt during the conference “an increased interest of the Europeans in the political support for the Negotiations Commission and for the Syrian political forces,” and the conference affirmed these countries’ commitment to the international resolution, which is a stance not to back down and to reinforce this narrative in the midst of stagnation, with no signs towards the Syrian issue.

Mufarrej conveyed the confirmation by officials that the European Union refuses any normalization, lifting of sanctions, or reconstruction as long as the Syrian regime does not take serious, tangible steps towards a comprehensive political solution.


There is a European affirmation of refusing any normalization, lifting of sanctions, or reconstruction as long as the Syrian regime does not take serious, tangible steps towards a comprehensive political solution.

Alice Mufarrej, Member of the Syrian Negotiations Commission and Head of the Detainees Committee


Anwar al-Bunni, director of the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research, one of the attendees at the conference, said that the solution in Syria begins with establishing a transitional government by the international community, withdrawing legitimacy and the rug from under the Syrian regime and from all groups claiming to represent the Syrian people, and granting legitimacy to the transitional government in order to lead to the solution in Syria.

Al-Bunni considered that talking about a humanitarian crisis in Syria and finding a solution to it, and talking about a constitutional committee, is jumping over the basic demand of the Syrian people.

President of the Syrian Negotiations Commission, Badr Jamous, during the Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region - April 30, 2024 (EU)

President of the Syrian Negotiations Commission, Badr Jamous, during the Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region – April 30, 2024 (EU)

Intense dialogue, No look towards the future

A report published in the Jusoor for Studies center, on April 30th last, considered that the conference formed an opportunity for dialogue and discussion among Syrians present in large numbers from various provinces and countries of refuge, which actually contributes to enabling the role of civil society in the political process.

The report clarified that enabling the role of civil society in the political process, whether through current tracks or a possible third path, aligns with the clear incapacity shown by Western countries and the United Nations during the conference to impose the implementation of the resolution 2254 on the parties to the conflict in Syria, adopting a new approach based on the continuous pursuit to apply its outputs through dialogue.

The report noted that the participants spent most of the conference time analyzing and describing the Syrian reality, without being able to move to its main theme of talking about supporting the future of Syria and the Syrians, the tools for that, and the strategies, and what local and international actors should do instead of talking about what they did, and what organizations did, which did not cover much in front of assessing needs.

Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region – April 30, 2024 (EU)

Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region – April 30, 2024 (EU)

Why ignore the conference?

Syrian regime is absent

The Syrian regime failed to comment on the eighth iteration of the Brussels conference, a gathering it consistently criticized and opposed, viewing it as “blatant interference” in Syrian internal affairs. The conference’s consistent portrayal by the regime suggests its perception of ongoing hostile policies by the United States, European Union, and their allies toward Syria.

This year, the absence of any reaction from Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was notable, considering its statements opposing the conference in previous years, the latest in 2023, where it stated that the European Union “chose to sideline the Syrian state to hide the true intentions and failed policies due to the harsh inhumane and immoral measures the Syrian people face, imposed by the United States and the European Union.”

Past statements from the Foreign Affairs Ministry carried a similar tone, denouncing the conference as a show event with no legitimacy, and interference in Syria’s domestic issues, expressing astonishment at the absence of the concerned party (the Syrian regime), and suggesting that there is a deliberate politicization by the European Union of the humanitarian situation to continue exerting pressure on Syria, complicating and prolonging the crisis, and that the conference does not align with the principles of the United Nations governing humanitarian work.

Maan Talaa, a researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, told Enab Baladi that the regime’s handling of the Brussels conference stems from viewing all discussions about the Syrian issue that do not center around its authority as part of an international conspiracy. Therefore, these events are less of interest to the regime as much as they are subject to ongoing criticism and targeted messages from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Talaa attributed the regime’s recent non-engagement with the Brussels conference to two equally significant reasons. The first is the regime’s current challenges and priorities, which have shifted its focus away from commenting on the conference. This aligns with the overall diminished attention to the Syrian file. The second reason is constructive silence, suggesting that the regime views ongoing events positively, especially since before the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 and the earthquake in 2023. The situation has benefitted from moves towards normalizing with the regime and restoring its centrality, particularly with the United Nations’ initiative or the legislative drafts for an Early Recovery Fund, which shifted aids from cross-border to across-the-line delivery, hinting the regime also anticipates support from a European approach that aligns with the United Nations. Thus, the regime has approached the conference with a policy of constructive silence.

Despite its continuation, fears of reduced funding

Many participants representing Syrian civil society organizations expressed fears of diminishing or decreasing European financial support for relief and recovery projects. During a session attended by Enab Baladi a day before the conference, Alessio Cappellani, the Head of the Middle East Division in the European External Action Service, stated that the European Union will continue providing support amounts for the next two years, without giving indications about the size of the support expected to be announced this year.

Meanwhile, EU spokesperson Luis Miguel Bueno, in a statement that raises concerns among Syrians, mentioned that Syria is no longer a priority for the supporting countries, confirming that the current crises in the world have also become priorities for international donors.

Bueno said during a talk with Jordan’s Al-Mamlaka channel that the European Union is committed to continue financing during the current edition of the conference, expressing hope that other donors, in general, and especially from the Arab region, will double their contributions during the ministerial day of the eighth Brussels conference.

The European Union also confirmed at the beginning of the Brussels conference the phrase, “committed to the Syrian people.” Between warnings of declining interest in providing financial support to Syria and reassurances of continuing commitment, many wonder about the extent of the impact of global crises and developments on the financial support provided by donors at the Brussels conference, and whether they will fulfill their financial commitments or not.

The Executive Director of the Baytna Syria organization, Assaad al-Achi, said that the official interventions within the conference showed no significant changes in financial and political support for Syria. Instead, the representatives of the countries reaffirmed their previous positions on Syria, noting the European Union’s emphasis on the three “no’s” (no normalization, no lifting of sanctions, no reconstruction) until entering a political process leading to a transition phase.

Al-Achi continued that all countries assured their commitment to helping Syrians during the conference, but on the sidelines of the sessions, there was talk about a decrease in financial budgets in most countries, although this did not appear during public speeches, which might become clearer during the ministerial conference of donors.

Member of the Syrian Negotiations Commission and the head of the Detainees Committee, Alice Mufarrej, told Enab Baladi that the financial support provided through Brussels is subject to political decisions by each European country, and it fluctuates each year, noting the urgent need to increase it this year, which the Commission hopes for due to the increasing needs of Syrians and the dire circumstances they live in.

She mentioned that it is crucial for the European Union to control these aids and ensure their precise and transparent utilization in the appropriate places and not to pass them through the Syrian regime. The current discussions revolve around early recovery and the complications of the concept and its multiple approaches. Without building efforts on human rights and justice conditional standards, the situation would worsen by reinforcing the existing division, supporting tyranny, and legitimating calls for normalization with the regime, according to Mufarrej.


In terms of the financial aspect, all countries during the conference reiterated their commitment to help Syrians, but on the sidelines of the sessions, there was talk of a decrease in financial budgets at most countries, although this was not shown during the public discourse, something that may become clearer during the ministerial conference of donors.

The Executive Director of the Baytna Syria organization, Assaad al-Achi


Specialist in International Relations Mahmoud Aloush, in a conversation with Enab Baladi, said that the Russian war on Ukraine has created new challenges for Western countries. Additionally, the war on Gaza has added to these challenges, contributing to changing the donor policies of Western countries, which can no longer afford to be generous in providing humanitarian support to Syrians, according to his view.

The Russian intervention in Syria in 2015 also made the West realize that it was no longer able to influence the situation in Syria significantly, which contributed to changing its financial policies towards Syrians as well.

The shift in the international mood regarding dealing with the Syrian file and the trend towards normalization with al-Assad may also reflect on how the donors’ funds are distributed. There are concerns about channeling aids through the Syrian regime, and the related deep concerns about corruption and inefficiency in distributing these aids fairly and transparently, and their theft by the regime.

Aloush believes that the political situation in Syria and the Western countries’ dealings with it may have slightly reduced the financial support to Syria and neighboring countries hosting refugees, but it will not lead to its cessation or substantial decline, because these countries are wary of the economic collapse in Lebanon and its reflection on refugees, as it would then lead to refugee waves towards Europe.

Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region - April 30, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

Eighth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region – April 30, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

Non-fulfillment of pledges, Reasons

Seven conferences about Syria have been held in Brussels starting from 2017, but most of them have been disappointing for many relief organizations and institutions that found the announced amounts by the donors “completely inappropriate, and much less than what is required from the needs of the Syrians.”

However, the major problem is that even the amounts pledged have not been fully paid.

The Executive Director of the Stabilization Support Unit, Mounzer al-Sallal, emphasized that the problem is not with approving financial support by donor countries, but with fulfilling the pledges that will be announced by the countries, considering that the measure of the conference’s success is the degree of fulfillment, not just the pledges.

On his part, Assaad al-Achi believes that the reason some donors fail to fulfill their pledges is due to the type of contract. If the contract is for a short duration, the donor generally commits to paying the funds; however, if the contract is for a long duration, there is a clause that each year the contract must be approved by parliament, and if the parliament decides not to spend the remaining amounts signed in the contract, then the donor has the right to stop sending installments to organizations in Syria.

The European Union issues a monitoring paper every September regarding each country’s compliance with the commitments announced during the donors’ conference.

The Executive Director of the Assistance Coordination Unit, Muhammad Hasno, told Enab Baladi that non-compliance by donors in Brussels with the pledges is expected to recur this year, due to the lack of political or legal obligation for them to pay their commitments. Additionally, organizations operating inside Syria suffer from random management and lack of control and governance, and each organization operates independently without joint coordination with other organizations, which contributes to the absence of social justice and directs donors’ money to some places while depriving others of support.

According to Mahmoud Aloush, Western countries no longer give priority to actively engaging with the course of the conflict in Syria to influence and push towards a political solution. Many Western countries have started changing their approach towards the situation in Syria, dealing on the basis that al-Assad remains in power, which has affected the donor policies in Brussels towards Syria, leading to a reduction in financial support for it and diverting it towards other countries and issues.

Three channels to deliver Brussels financial pledges to Syria

Funds from donors in Brussels reach the interior of Syria through three channels.

The primary and first channel is the United Nations, where most countries give all the money they pledged to the UN, which takes a large part of it for its operational expenses, including high staff salaries, the cost of meetings and reservations, office wages, and other expenditures that significantly affect the amount that reaches those in need.

The second channel is through international organizations that also deduct a considerable portion of donor funds for self-financing, then send the money through intermediaries in various areas of control in Syria.

The third channel is through Syrian organizations scattered around the world, or Syrian organizations based in neighboring countries (Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraqi Kurdistan). These organizations either have teams inside Syria to implement these projects or build partnerships with institutions within Syria to carry out the projects.


The United Nations receives the largest share of donor funds at 65%, while 25% of these grants go to international organizations, and Syrian organizations receive only 10%.

Assaad al-Achi, Executive Director of Baytna Syria Organization



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