EU divided over strategy on conflict in Libya

EU divided over strategy on conflict in Libya

EU ministers struggle to find an effective foreign policy with regard to conflicts on its eastern and southern borders. 

Media and key stakeholders from across Europe have been arguing that the EU is proving less effective at pursuing a coherent, integrated foreign and security policy, especially on Lybia. 

The civil war in Libya has highlighted how the EU’s well-meaning efforts at promoting peace and stability have suffered from confused objectives that potentially risked making the conflict worse.

Libya has been divided between dueling governments since 2014

However, tensions have significantly mounted since April 2019, when Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), based in the country’s east, moved to capture Tripoli. Despite Haftar’s initial advances, the result has so far been a stalemate.

An escalation of the fighting in the region is likely to result in further radicalization, risking partition, and even complete state collapse, with consequences across all North Africa and Europe. 

The United Nations (UN), as well as Russia and Turkey, have tried to mediate the conflict.

As it happened in Syria, military interventions from foreign powers, notably Russia and Turkey, and US disengagement exposed the limits of EU influence over a conflict raging on the Block’s doorstep. 

The EU’s latest initiative to stabilize the region, launched on March 31, is named Operation Inini, the Greek word for peace. 

Apparently, Irini’s purpose is to support the enforcement of a UN Security Council arms embargo — which to date has basically been universally de facto ignored — on the Libyan combatants and their suppliers. 

Yet many commentators and analysts have deemed the initiative as “badly designed and fails to narrow intra-EU disagreements” over the bloc’s priorities in the Mediterranean.

On May 2, International Insider asked whether Irini was a designated failure?

Operation Irini is indeed a sea-based mission that inadvertently could risk hurting the Tripoli-based government, which receives the majority of its weapon supplies by sea, mainly from Turkey. On the other hand, Haftar’s forces are currently supplied by air and land across the Libyan-Egyptian border. 

In this way, it is possible to argue that the Irini could end up helping the Haftar’s forces, who are currently backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is also not an UN-backed government that the EU officially supports. 

The EU appears divided on the mission and on what side to support. 

France, Cyprus, and Greece are considered to be more sympathetic than their partners to Haftar. Indeed they perceive the general as a potential ally to contrast ISIS and al-Quaeda in the Sahel or a better party to deal with controversial maritime boundaries dispute with Turkey. 

EU leaders will review Operation Irini every four months to guarantee that it is not out of its original mandate. 

George Costa

George Costa is a reporter specialized in defence and security systems. He covers international defence and security issues, such as international conflicts, WMD proliferation, and cybersecurity, as well as news reporting on developments in the global defence community.