Watching Syrians get slaughtered by their own rulers and hearing the outraged statements from European leaders about Syrian atrocities one would think that Syria had it coming. After all, a regime cannot send tanks and helicopter gunships to raze its own cities to the ground and expect Europe's elected politicians to turn a blind eye. In fact, much of the European self-righteousness on Syria is a welcome, but late, departure from a decade of efforts to engage Bashar al-Assad's murderous regime.
Syria is the only Mediterranean country not to have an Association Agreement with the European Union. You could be excused if you thought that this dubious privilege was the result of Syria's decades-long flirtation with Iran and its terrorist proxies, Hamas and Hizbollah; its meddling in the internal affairs of Lebanon; its role in the 2005 assassination of the Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri; and its human rights record, which was abysmal enough even before Bashar al-Assad ordered his security forces to massacre many thousands of civilians to stem the tide of the Arab spring.
You would be wrong. According to the European External Action Service website: "In October 2009, the EU Member States unanimously agreed that they wish to sign the EU-Syria Association Agreement. The Syrian authorities replied to the EU Council's invitation to sign with a request for time to further examine the Agreement." The EU should thank the Syrian authorities, then, for having spared it a significant embarrassment.
Had it been left to Brussels, engagement would have gone much further — as attested by the hundreds of millions of euros Europe has poured into the Syrian economy through a multiplicity of "soft-power" channels. Between 2000 and 2009, for example, the European Investment Bank granted the Syrian government more than €1.4 billion in long-term loans.