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Can France help steer #Libya to stability?

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In the run-up to his visit to Libya this week, European Parliament president Antonio Tajani called on Europe to “speak with one voice” and collectively direct its efforts towards rebuilding a functioning state in what has otherwise become chaotic mess of rival factions and interested outside powers. Tajani’s calls for unity sound vague but are specifically meant for audiences in Paris and Rome, where the two most prominent European players in Libya have gone from trading barbs over migration issues to squaring off over their competing attempts to patch together Libya’s fractuous politics.

Tajani’s comments come after French president Emmanuel Macron has spent much of the past several weeks trying to intervene in Libya’s intractable internal stalemate. At an international summit hosted by Macron in Paris in May, four key Libyan figures agreed to stage “credible, peaceful” elections in the country in December—a plan described variously as symbolic, ambitious and unrealistic. Since then, the French president has kept up the pressure on Libya’s rival factions to make sure the agreement sticks.

The quagmire on Europe’s doorstep may offer Macron an opportunity to make his mark, but it also presents Paris with an array of intractable challenges and bullish players. Various factions have been battling for control of war-wracked Libya since the 2011 death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The fragmented still country remains without a single unified authority. With both former US President Barack Obama and current President Donald Trump directing Washington to withdraw, France is now at the forefront of foreign powers seeking a political solution to the Libyan emergency.

The May summit was Macron’s most concrete attempt to stabilize what has become the pathway of choice for migrants headed to Europe. The country has been the transit point for hundreds of thousands of Africans fleeing war, poverty, military conscription and political repression, often trafficked through the Libyan desert before setting out to Italy by boat. If the ambitious French leader is to make political headway, he must tackle Libya’s chaotic security situation while building a consensus among Western stakeholders on this humanitarian crisis. If he does not address these elements, the upcoming elections he has orchestrated run the risk of pushing the North African nation deeper into anarchy.

Among the Libyan leaders who have endorsed this initiative was Khalifa Haftar, the head of the army in the eastern part of the country. A onetime Gaddafi ally, Haftar has emerged as one of the dictator’s harshest critics since the 1980s. After two decades spent in exile in the United States, he returned to Libya shortly after the beginning of the civil war in 2011 intent on pacifying the country. Now one of the most powerful players in the conflict, Haftar promotes himself as the country’s best hope for stability and as a bulwark against jihadists. His quelling of extremist groups – his troops most recently succeeded in driving out radical Islamist militias from the besieged northeastern city of Derna – has helped win him discreet support from Paris and other European capitals, which increasingly see him as the safest pair of hands for a stable Libya.

 Given the continuing instability in the country, doubts persist around the prospects of December's Macron-brokered elections. Former Libyan leader Mahmoud Jibril has warned premature elections could lead to Libya’s partition and called for greater security and unity before organizing votes. For his part, Macron has acknowledged violence could disrupt elections but still hails the Paris conference as a breakthrough.

Libya must achieve a modicum of stability to stand any chance of holding successful elections, and Western support will be key. But that support is inextricably tied up with the flow of people coming from Libya to Europe. Thus far, no European capital outside of Paris has been willing to take a longer-term view. Italy, for example, agreed with Libya to reactivate a treaty unlocking €4.2 billion of Italian investment if Tripoli accepts the return of migrants and cracks down on illegal sea-crossings.

Human rights groups are understandably incensed by the measure. Italy is essentially imposing the return of those crossing the Mediterranean to a war-torn country where they face widespread maltreatment in detention centers and other forms of exploitation. Sending large numbers of migrants back to Libya could also cause major social and economic upheaval in the fragile country and create something “much worse than the current situation”, according to the Libyan academic and politician Guma el-Gamaty.

Europe’s internal squabbles over refugee quotas have already jeopardized cooperation inside the EU. Last month, for example, Italy’s populist government prevented the rescue boat Aquarius from docking, a move that Macron criticized as “cynical and irresponsible” - even as France declined to offer safe haven to the ship. European ministers are irked by what they perceive to be Macron’s reluctance to offer pragmatic help, even after Paris and Tripoli announced plans to strengthen their co-operation and combat traffickers last month.

Tajani is of course entirely right in saying European leaders must overcome their differences and help Libya in order to solve their own migration crisis. Barbs aside, France and Italy can still agree on many aspects of the challenge. Weakened armed groups and improved security will help choke off the human-trafficking routes. Bolstering Libya’s stability and security are indispensable precursors to any future elections—not to mention the future and unity of Project Europe.

In the words of Dr. Jeffrey A. Stacey, a former State Department official under Obama: “The price of instability [in Libya] would be ISIS’s return, greater refugee flows, further populism in Europe, and the realistic prospect of a ‘second Syria’.”

 

EU

‘Right to disconnect’ should be an EU-wide fundamental right, MEPs say 

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Always on’ culture poses serious risks, MEPs say ©Deagreez/Adobe Stock  

The European Parliament calls for an EU law that grants workers the right to digitally disconnect from work without facing negative repercussions. In their legislative initiative that passed with 472 votes in favour, 126 against and 83 abstentions, MEPs call on the Commission to propose a law that enables those who work digitally to disconnect outside their working hours. It should also establish minimum requirements for remote working and clarify working conditions, hours and rest periods.

The increase in digital resources being used for work purposes has resulted in an ‘always on’ culture, which has a negative impact on the work-life balance of employees, MEPs say. Although working from home has been instrumental in helping safeguard employment and business during the COVID-19 crisis, the combination of long working hours and higher demands also leads to more cases of anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental and physical health issues.

MEPs consider the right to disconnect a fundamental right that allows workers to refrain from engaging in work-related tasks – such as phone calls, emails and other digital communication – outside working hours. This includes holidays and other forms of leave. Member states are encouraged to take all necessary measures to allow workers to exercise this right, including via collective agreements between social partners. They should ensure that workers will not be subjected to discrimination, criticism, dismissal, or other adverse actions by employers.

“We cannot abandon millions of European workers who are exhausted by the pressure to be always 'on' and overly long working hours. Now is the moment to stand by their side and give them what they deserve: the right to disconnect. This is vital for our mental and physical health. It is time to update worker’s rights so that they correspond to the new realities of the digital age,” rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba (S&D, MT) said after the vote.

Background

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has increased by almost 30%. This figure is expected to remain high or even increase. Research by Eurofound shows that people who work regularly from home are more than twice as likely to surpass the maximum of 48 working hours per week, compared to those working on their employer’s premises. Almost 30% of those working from home report working in their free time every day or several times a week, compared to less than 5% of office workers.

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Brexit

Scottish government comment on efforts to stay in Erasmus

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Minsters have welcomed the support of around 150 MEPs who have asked the European Commission to explore how Scotland could continue to take part in the popular Erasmus exchange programme. The move comes a week after Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held productive talks with Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to explore the idea. Until last year, over 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners took part in the scheme annually, with Scotland attracting proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sending more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.

Lochhead said: “Losing Erasmus is huge blow for the thousands of Scottish students, community groups and adult learners - from all demographic backgrounds - who can no longer live, study or work in Europe.“It also closes the door for people to come to Scotland on Erasmus to experience our country and culture and it is heartening to see that loss of opportunity recognised by the 145 MEPs from across Europe who want Scotland’s place in Erasmus to continue. I am grateful to Terry Reintke and other MEPs for their efforts and thank them for extending the hand of friendship and solidarity to Scotland’s young people. I sincerely hope we can succeed.

“I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel. We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximize Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme. I have also spoken with my Welsh Government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact.”

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EU

Leaders agree on new ‘dark red’ zones for high-risk COVID areas

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At a special meeting of European heads of government, to discuss the rise of infection rates across Europe and the emergence of new, more contagious variants, leaders agreed that the situation warranted the utmost caution and agreed on a new category of ‘dark red zone’ for high-risk areas.

The new category would indicate that the virus was circulating at a very high level. People traveling from dark red areas could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. Non-essential travel in or out of these areas would be strongly discouraged.

The EU has underlined that it is anxious to keep the single market functioning especially concerning the movement of essential workers and goods, von der Leyen described this as of the “utmost importance”. 

The approval of vaccinations and the start of roll-out is encouraging but it is understood that further vigilance is needed. Some states which are more dependent on tourism called for the use of vaccination certificates as a way to open up travel. The leaders debated the use a common approach and agreed that the vaccination document should be seen as a medical document, rather than a travel document - at this stage. Von der Leyen said: “We will discuss the suitability of a common approach to certification.”

Member states agreed to a Council recommendation setting a common framework for the use of rapid antigen tests and the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results across the EU. The mutual recognition of test results for SARS-CoV2 infection carried by certified health bodies should help facilitate cross-border movement and cross-border contact tracing.

The common list of appropriate COVID-19 rapid antigen tests should be flexible enough for addition, or removal, of those tests whose efficacy is impacted by COVID-19 mutations.

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