EU pulling in different directions as Libya keeps sending refugees

Germany supports a united EU approach, but appears to limit its public statements on how andwhere immigrants from Libya should settle.

By Jon Van Housen & Mariella Radaelli (Euroscope)

Published: Sun 16 Sep 2018, 9:22 PM

Last updated: Sun 16 Sep 2018, 11:26 PM

As Europe struggles to stop the flow of refugees from Africa and wrestles with the impact from those already on it shores, its lack of a decisive policy towards Libya means the struggle will likely continue. Mixed signals and efforts in Libya have not helped stabilise the country, a crucial gateway in the flow of refugees.
The ongoing Libyan crisis is likely to fuel more refugees, arrivals that have in many ways already destabilised the status quo in Europe. In the aftermath of almost two million refugees who have already arrived, Europe is witnessing resurgence of nationalism and populist political parties opposed to further immigration or even European Union integration. The discord is now keenly felt in the EU as the issue is widening the rift between member nations.
The EU's lack of a cohesive policy on Libya shows the limits of its power.
Known for its studies, debates and regulations, the bloc often appears impotent in the face of the hard issues of realpolitik. Some say it is reaping what it sows - more disunity.
France and Italy, in particular, have widely divergent approaches to Libya. Both former colonial powers in the region, the second and third-largest EU countries have perhaps the best intelligence on the range of players and issues, yet seem to be pursuing conflicting paths.
George Szamuely, senior research fellow at the Global Policy Institute, told the press that Italian disagreement with international Libyan policy goes back to efforts of removal of Muammar Gaddafi from power, which it supported out of loyalty to Nato.
"So they went along with it reluctantly, even though they had a pretty good idea it would end in a disaster," says Szamuely. "I think there's still a lot of resentment in Italy, and it goes back to what had happened in 2011."
The doubts continue with "what the French are doing today, in that they seem to want to be the dominant political force in Libya," says Szamuely.
"They (the French) are pushing for early elections, which is absurd. The idea of having early elections in December when there's a civil war raging in the capital Tripoli as well as a civil war between two factions," he says. "In these circumstances any election result would be meaningless. Yet the French are pushing for it, and I think the Italians have a reasonable idea that this is just going to lead to more instability and more refugees heading towards Italy."
In mid-September Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj used Facebook to report on a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron asking France to unify the international community's position on the Libyan crisis, including asking all parties involved to abide by political accords. Al Sarraj earlier said prevailing conditions in his country were too unstable to hold elections.
Italy's Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi, too, said the French position was untenable. "We are in disagreement with the position of the French government, which says the elections in Libya must be held on December 10," said Moavero Milanesi.
As the Libyan crisis continues, it seems many EU states are sitting on the sidelines. Germany supports a united EU approach, but appears to limit its public statements on how and where immigrants from Libya should settle. In May, Germany's interior minister made a call for a European police mission on the border between Niger and Libya, but the idea was shelved. Unilateral actions from EU member states have reportedly vexed both European and UN diplomats working on the Libyan crisis.
But Germany is the largest financial donor to Libya, providing some ?233 million in funding over past year to support a variety of projects in the country. "As Germany is an EU state, Libya is our immediate neighbour," says the German Ambassador to Libya Christian Buck. "We understand that it is as much our duty as in our best self-interest to work with Libyans and the state of Libya to help build up the country."
In the rapidly changing situation, last week the UN extended the mandate for its mission in Libya for another year, but did not approve the call for December 10 elections advocated by France.
And as EU discord continues, the death toll of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean sea has soared, with June the deadliest in recent years. The International Organization for Migration reports some 564 deaths or disappearances in the month even though overall departures have dropped sharply. On land it is certainly dangerous as well, so much so that Italian Ambassador to Libya Giuseppe Perrone remained in Rome last week "due to street protests fostered by 'misunderstandings'," said a report from the ANSA news agency.
Foreign Minister Moavero Milanesi told the foreign affairs committees of Italy's parliament that an international conference on Libya will be held in Sicily in November amid efforts "to stabilise a situation that is ever more precarious", said ANSA.
With waves of refugees a real and present challenge, the EU needs cohesion in word and action. Like no other issue before, immigration has called into question part of its very name - union. As it stands now, the grand experiment looks deeply flawed.
Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are editors at the Luminosity Italia news agency in Milan

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