Christos Mouzeviris takes an in-depth look at the current level of EU involvement in the Libyan crisis and asks why the Union is not taking more action to stop the conflict.
For the past decade, there have been not one, but three wars raging right at Europe’s borders. The most known and reported is the one in Syria, which has forced millions of refugees onto our continent. However, we cannot be too complacent about what is happening in Ukraine and even more so, in Libya. Since the NATO backed the overthrowing and killing of the Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the North African nation has experienced instability, two civil wars and a growing foreign intervention. Most of Europe has been focusing on its internal troubles such as Brexit, however it has now become apparent that this conflict can no longer be ignored.
Thus-and rightly so- the German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently hosted in Berlin, a Conference for Libya which saw invitations sent to both warring parties of Libya, the Tripoli based GNA and its leader Fayez al-Serraj, plus the Tobruk Government’s (HoR) Libyan National Army General, Khalifa Haftar.
With them, a selection of foreign powers with interests in the region were also invited, most of them already present and engaging in the conflict and siding with either party. The leaders of France, Turkey, Russia, Italy and the United Kingdom, together with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were present. In addition, representatives from the EU, the African Union, the UN, the Arab League, Egypt, UAE, DR Congo, China and Algeria were also in attendance.
The Conference’s outcome seems to have been successful, if only the participants- especially the two rivals in Libya and their foreign supporters, stick to what it has been agreed; that is an end to any interference in the country’s ongoing civil conflict, plus to uphold a UN arms embargo. Twice before, in Paris and in Palermo similar agreements were made, but not upheld. In addition, there was a failed effort for mediation by Greece in 2016 between Libya and Egypt and in 2011 between Gaddafi’s regime and NATO. Thus, one would wonder, why Greece was excluded from the recent talks, since it has played an active role before..
The reaction in the Balkan nation was anger in reaction to what seems like a snub by Germany towards Greece, especially since Turkey’s President, Mr Erdogan was present. The German government chose to keep the reasons away from the public knowledge, while many notable Greek politicians such as Dora Bakoyanni, called the move “a mistake”.
Yet, there are many reasons why the German initiative should be applauded, although they could have involved Greece in some ways. The US has hinted that Libya is mainly Europe’s problem and has avoided getting actively involved until recently, apart from sporadic attacks on ISIL targets. To fill this void, Turkey and Russia have both stepped in, each siding with a rival warring group. In order to promote its interests, Turkey has signed two agreements with CNA, one on maritime borders and the other on military cooperation. The first one hit a nerve with Greece, as it considered the maritime memorandum a violation of international law and an attack on its sovereign rights. Turkey and Greece have seen their relations deteriorating over the last few years, with Turkey seemingly trying its best to interfere or sabotage the developments in East Mediterranean and the successful cooperation between Cyprus, Israel and Greece on gas exploration.
What looks like bitterness on it’s part, primarily because it has been left out, Turkey went on to sign its own deal with Libya, although not only is this agreement illegal, it is supported by no one. Both the US and the EU have thrown their support around Greece, yet sadly only in words. The EU has numerous times condemned Turkey’s actions around Cyprus and East Mediterranean; however, it has until now avoided to actively and decisively penalize Erdogan’s antics. Similarly, the US government although supportive of Greece, they are too passive when it comes to Turkey, a major and valuable ally of theirs in the Middle East.
Just as in Libya, the whole dispute between the two NATO “allies” is around the right to oil and gas exploration and it is unfortunate that Turkey is not focusing on its recent successes, such as launching a new Turkish made automobile and its own economy, but instead is trying to bully two EU member states- Greece and Cyprus- while extending their sphere of influence.
Such attitudes have kept the whole region on a back-foot and has seriously harmed the economies of both Greece and Turkey. The latter is now to trying to infringe on Greek national maritime territory- all the way to the island of Crete- in order to satisfy the megalomaniac plans of Mr Erdogan and his government. Turkey maintains that the Greek islands do not constitute Greek sovereign rights on the continental shelf. In this way, it wants to extend its right to drill all the way deep in Greek waters. It is only to be seen when Europe will truly treat Greek and Cypriot national maritime borders as European, acting accordingly and cutting the appetites of Erdogan once and for all. Because of Turkey, Greece was forced to intervene in the Libyan crisis and declare allegiance with HoR. The Greek government invited the group’s leader Khalifa Haftar in talks prior the Berlin Conference, plus it clearly indicated that it would block any decision adopted by the EU regarding Libya, unless the Turkey-GNA maritime deal is cancelled.
Overall, we should be hailing Chancellor Merkel’s initiative as Europeans, although ultimately, it should be the EU taking such lead. The time is now for Europe to start flexing its muscles in its own neighbourhood and taking the lead in solving international disputes. If the EU wants to be taken seriously as a global player, it needs to decide collectively and show determination during such threats and crises.
Until now, EU member states were fragmented or indifferent towards the Libya conflict, too absorbed by Brexit and Syria at best. Italy is supportive of the Tripoli based GNA, while France and the UK switched sides according to their and US interests. Now that Greece is forced to enter the game by Turkey’s antics and Germany by its own accord, it is evident that this conflict is becoming a European issue. If we leave Russia backing HoR and Turkey supporting GNA, we will have an outcome that ultimately will affect Europe, but without any of our input or our interests protected and promoted.
Germany might have made a blunder by not inviting Greece to the talks, or it may just have saved the day. With a Turkey so hostile towards Greece, the two engaged in the Conference, may have derailed any agreement and turned it into another heated debate and diplomatic incident between the two.
That was not the point of such meeting after all. Besides, particularly given that Greece has not attained a great record of diplomatic success in the region previously. Alos, it is now clear that Erdogan was unable to get what he wanted from the Conference and had to-seemingly at least- accept a ceasefire, a UN arms embargo and a peacefully resolution to the conflict.
No word was made about the Greek concerns, at least not openly and the Germans with their European counterparts were wise this time around to avoid it. It is always better to focus on one issue and not try to carry two melons under one arm. However, if there should be a continuation in this dispute, Greece cannot be ignored again. At least not since it pledged and showed interest in sending together with France, Germany and other European nations, a military mission to monitor the ceasefire. It is the country of entry for many refugees from the Middle East and Africa, has maritime borders with Libya and since Turkey’s recent stance, will be most affected by the Libyan civil war outcome.
Following the Berlin Conference for Libya, Europe is now debating on what path to follow next. Ministers are currently in Brussels, discussing ways of how to treat Turkey, with Hungary being one of the states opposing sanctions against its aggression towards Greece. Another topic is focusing on the realization, that since Europe needs to secure the outcome of the conference, it really needs to get both militarily and politically involved, even if it is with the collaboration of the UN and the African Union.
Merkel’s initiative has finally got Europe talking about Libya and Turkey. It now only remains to be seen how able EU member states can be in showing solidarity with a member state, leadership in the region and agreeing decisively on a matter that can shape their future.