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Can the EU come up with a common Libya policy?

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When European Union Ambassador to Libya José Sabadell announced the reopening of the bloc’s mission to Libya on 20 May, two years after it was shut, the news received distinctly muted fanfare. With new geopolitical crises hitting headlines every week, it is hardly surprising that the European political commentariat has gone quiet on its neighbour across the Mediterranean. But the radio silence on recent developments in the North African country reflects a worrying lack of reflection at EU level about the upcoming election which will decide the course of the nation in December, after a decade of bloodshed, writes Colin Stevens.

But despite the ten years that have elapsed since Nicolas Sarkozy’s fateful decision to throw France’s weight behind the anti-Gaddafi forces, member states’ actions in Libya remain both inconsistent and contradictory–a problem which has only served to exacerbate the country’s political divisions. However, precisely because Libya’s future hinges on the December vote, the EU should seek to bridge the divisions between its bigger members and unite European leaders behind a common foreign policy.

The haunting legacy of the Arab Spring

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The questions marks surrounding the upcoming elections reflect the jockeying for power in Libya of the past decade. After an eight-month civil war in 2011, during which at least 25,000 civilians lost their lives, protestors succeeded in toppling the 42-year-long regime of Colonel Gaddafi. But high spirits were quickly shattered as discord and distrust set in between the winning militias. In the aftermath, three different governments stepped into the power vacuum, thus triggering a second civil war and thousands more deaths.

So when Tripoli’s transitional unity government (GNU) was established in March, domestic and international optimism for an end to this destructive stalemate was widespread. But as the country’s polarised political factions continue to clash in the run up to the vote, the apparent gains made towards stable leadership in Libya are proving fragile–with the EU’s lack of a joint strategic vision further complicating things. The time is ripe for the EU to take a common stance on the political future of this strategically critical nation.

A two-horse race

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That a stable future for Libya hangs on these elections fails to have hit home in Brussels. Indeed, while the Union is quick to mobilize on Libyan migrant policy and the withdrawal of non-Western foreign troops from the country, there is no bloc-wide consensus on the best candidate for the leadership. European powerhouses France and Italy, in particular, have been at loggerheads as to which feuding faction to back ever since the 2011 insurrection, when one diplomat quipped that the EU’s dream of a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) “died in Libya – we just have to pick a sand dune under which we can bury it”. The intransigence of member states has complicated a unified EU response.

On the one hand, Italy has vocalized their support for the Government of National Accord (GNA), a UN-implemented party that also enjoys the support of Qatar and Turkey, which has held sway in Tripoli since 2014. But despite its UN backing, critics have looked increasingly askance at the party’s questionable financial agreements with Turkey, and its close connections Islamist extremists, including Libya’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. At a time when Libya’s increasing numbers of armed Salafi and Jihadi groups threatens both domestic, regional and European security, Italy’s support for the Islamist GNA is raising eyebrows.


The other force in the country is Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by France, seeks to reverse the worrying proliferation of extremism in Libya. As head of the Libyan National Army (LNA) and de facto leader of three quarters of the country’s territory (including its biggest oil fields), Haftar has a track record of fighting terrorism after suppressing the Islamic extremists in the country’s eastern Benghazi region in 2019. This dual Libyan-US citizen is considered well placed to stabilise the country enjoying the support of neighbouring Egypt, as well as the UAE and Russia. Despite drawing the ire of some, Haftar is popular within the battle-fatigued nation, with over 60% of the population declaring confidence in the LNA in 2017 opinion poll, compared to just 15% for the GNA.

A proxy election?

The longer the EU fails to speak up with one voice, and guide the country out of its twin civil wars, the more flak it will draw for intervening in the first place. Brussels has a wealth of experience in conflict resolution and has achieved some notable successes in conflicts where it has intervened with the full force of its member states behind it. But instead of deploying its expertise in Libya, the EU seems to have taken a rather hands off approach so as not to rattle feathers internally.

The muted response to the EU’s reopening of its mission in Libya reflects Brussels’ worrying disengagement from the political constellation of the nation. With the elections nearing, Berlaymont will have to be sure that this lack of talk does not lead to lack of thought in coming months. Without a coherent EU Libya policy, the power divide in the country between the two principal powers will only deepen, exacerbating the Islamist threat in Europe. In order to ensure that the country’s cautious optimism is not betrayed once again, the EU should orchestrate diplomatic discussions between its members sooner rather than later.

European Commission

NextGenerationEU: European Commission disburses €231 million in pre-financing to Slovenia

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The European Commission has disbursed €231 million to Slovenia in pre-financing, equivalent to 13% of the country's grant allocation under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The pre-financing payment will help to kick-start the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Slovenia's recovery and resilience plan. The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the implementation of the investments and reforms outlined in Slovenia's recovery and resilience plan.

The country is set to receive €2.5 billion in total, consisting of €1.8bn in grants and €705m in loans, over the lifetime of its plan. Today's disbursement follows the recent successful implementation of the first borrowing operations under NextGenerationEU. By the end of the year, the Commission intends to raise up to a total of €80 billion in long-term funding, to be complemented by short-term EU-Bills, to fund the first planned disbursements to member states under NextGenerationEU.

The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across member states. The Slovenian plan is part of the unprecedented EU response to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, fostering the green and digital transitions and strengthening resilience and cohesion in our societies. A press release is available online.

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Cyprus

NextGenerationEU: European Commission disburses €157 million in pre-financing to Cyprus

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The European Commission has disbursed €157 million to Cyprus in pre-financing, equivalent to 13% of the country's financial allocation under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The pre-financing payment will help to kick-start the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Cyprus' recovery and resilience plan. The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the implementation of the investments and reforms outlined in Cyprus' recovery and resilience plan.

The country is set to receive €1.2 billion in total over the lifetime of its plan, with €1 billion provided in grants and €200m in loans. Today's disbursement follows the recent successful implementation of the first borrowing operations under NextGenerationEU. By the end of the year, the Commission intends to raise up to a total of €80bn in long-term funding, to be complemented by short-term EU-Bills, to fund the first planned disbursements to member states under NextGenerationEU. Part of NextGenerationEU, the RRF will provide €723.8bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across member states.

The Cypriot plan is part of the unprecedented EU response to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, fostering the green and digital transitions and strengthening resilience and cohesion in our societies. A press release is available online.

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Belgium

EU Cohesion policy: Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy receive €373 million to support health and social services, SMEs and social inclusion

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The Commission has granted €373 million to five European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) operational programmes (OPs) in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy to help the countries with coronavirus emergency response and repair in the framework of REACT-EU. In Belgium, the modification of the Wallonia OP will make available an additional €64.8m for the acquisition of medical equipment for health services and innovation.

The funds will support small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in developing e-commerce, cybersecurity, websites and online stores, as well as the regional green economy through energy efficiency, protection of the environment, development of smart cities and low-carbon public infrastructures. In Germany, in the Federal State of Hessen, €55.4m will support health-related research infrastructure, diagnostic capacity and innovation in universities and other research institutions as well as research, development and innovation investments in the fields of climate and sustainable development. This amendment will also provide support to SMEs and funds for start-ups through an investment fund.

In Sachsen-Anhalt, €75.7m will facilitate cooperation of SMEs and institutions in research, development and innovation, and provide investments and working capital for micro-enterprises affected by the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, the funds will allow investments in the energy efficiency of enterprises, support digital innovation in SMEs and acquiring digital equipment for schools and cultural institutions. In Italy, the national OP ‘Social Inclusion' will receive €90m to promote the social integration of people experiencing severe material deprivation, homelessness or extreme marginalisation, through ‘Housing First' services that combine the provision of immediate housing with enabling social and employment services.

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In Spain, €87m will be added to the ESF OP for Castilla y León to support the self-employed and workers who had their contracts suspended or reduced due to the crisis. The money will also help hard-hit companies avoid layoffs, especially in the tourism sector. Finally, the funds are needed to allow essential social services to continue in a safe way and to ensure educational continuity throughout the pandemic by hiring additional staff.

REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.6bn additional funding (in current prices) to Cohesion policy programmes over the course of 2021 and 2022. Measures focus on supporting labour market resilience, jobs, SMEs and low-income families, as well as setting future-proof foundations for the green and digital transitions and a sustainable socio-economic recovery.

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