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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

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

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.

Brexit

Germany’s Merkel urges pragmatic approach to Northern Ireland

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) called on Saturday for a “pragmatic solution” to disagreements over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, Reuters Read more.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, threatening emergency measures if no solution was found.

The EU has to defend its common market, Merkel said, but on technical questions there could be a way forward in the dispute, she told a news conference during a Group of Seven leaders' summit.

"I have said that I favour a pragmatic solution for contractual agreements, because a cordial relationship is of utmost significance for Britain and the European Union," she said.

Referring to a conversation she had with U.S. President Joe Biden about geopolitical issues, Merkel said they agreed that Ukraine must continue to remain a transit country for Russian natural gas once Moscow completes the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

The $11 billion pipeline will carry gas to Germany directly, something Washington fears could undermine Ukraine and increase Russia's influence over Europe.

Biden and Merkel are due to meet in Washington on July 15, and the strain on bilateral ties caused by the project will be on the agenda.

The G7 sought on Saturday to counter China's growing influence by offering developing nations an infrastructure plan that would rival President Xi Jinping's multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. L5N2NU045

Asked about the plan, Merkel said the G7 was not yet ready to specify how much financing could be made available.

“Our financing instruments often are not as quickly available as developing countries need them,” she said

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Brexit

'Whatever it takes', UK's Johnson warns EU over post-Brexit trade

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Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday (12 June), threatening emergency measures if no solution was found, write Elizabeth Piper and Michel Rose.

The threat by Johnson seemed to break a temporary truce in a war of words over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, the focus for tensions since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year.

Despite US President Joe Biden encouraging them to find a compromise, Johnson used a G7 summit to indicate no softening in his position on what is called the Northern Ireland protocol that covers border issues with the British province.

"I think we can sort it out but ... it is up to our EU friends and partners to understand that we will do whatever it takes," Johnson told Sky News.

"I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16," he added, referring to a safeguard clause that allows either side to take measures if they believe the agreement is leading to economic, societal or environment difficulties.

"I've talked to some of our friends here today, who do seem to misunderstand that the UK is a single country, a single territory. I just need to get that into their heads."

His comments came after he met French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel at a Group of Seven summit in southwestern England.

The EU told the British government once again that it must implement the Brexit deal in full and introduce checks on certain goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland. Britain repeated its call for urgent and innovative solutions to ease the friction.

The province has an open border with EU member Ireland so the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed as a way to preserve the bloc's single market after Britain left.

The protocol essentially kept the province in the EU’s customs union and adhering to many of the single market rules, creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea between the British province and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Anti-Brexit protesters holding a banner and flags demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel remove their protective face masks as they meet during the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Pool

Since Britain exited the bloc's orbit, Johnson has unilaterally delayed the implementation of some provisions of the protocol, including checks on chilled meats such as sausages moving from the mainland to Northern Ireland, saying it was causing disruption to some supplies to the province.

"Both sides must implement what we agreed on," von der Leyen, European Commission president, said after meeting Johnson alongside Michel, the European Council president.

"There is complete EU unity on this," she said, adding that the deal had been agreed, signed and ratified by both Johnson's government and the bloc.

Germany's Merkel said the two sides could find pragmatic solutions on technical questions, while the EU protected its single market.

Earlier this week, talks between the two sets of negotiators ended in an exchange of threats over the so-called "sausage wars". An EU official said at the G7 that there was a need for the rhetoric to be toned down.

The head of the World Trade Organization said she hoped the tensions would not escalate into a trade war.

The United States has also expressed grave concern the dispute could undermine the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.

That agreement largely brought an end to the "Troubles" - three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Though Brexit was not part of the formal agenda for the G7 summit in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay, it has more than once threatened to cloud the meeting.

France's Macron offered to reset relations with Britain as long as Johnson stood by the Brexit deal - a characterisation of the meeting that was rejected by the British team. Read more.

Brexit has also strained the situation in Northern Ireland, where the pro-British "unionist" community say they are now split off from the rest of the United Kingdom and the Brexit deal breaches the 1998 peace deal. But the open border between the province and Ireland was a key principle of the Good Friday deal.

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Keeping the UEFA EURO 2020 championship safe

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Between 10 June and 12 July 2021, Europol will host an operational centre to support safety and security during the UEFA EURO 2020 football championship. Coordinated by the Dutch Police, the International Police Cooperation Centre (IPCC) of the National Football Contact Points will host about 40 liaison officers from 22 participating and hosting countries. This special operational set-up is created to enable swift cooperation and provide the necessary operational support for a safe and secure championship.

The IPCC will serve as a central information hub for national law enforcement authorities. To that end, Europol has created a special Task Force EURO 2020 to enable keeping officers on the ground 24/7 to easily exchange information and swiftly receive leads on ongoing investigations. The operational activities will focus on public safety and criminal threats, which may threaten security during the tournament. Enforcement authorities will target threats such as cybercrime, terrorism, match-fixing, trafficking counterfeit goods including fake COVID-19 certificates, and other intellectual property crimes.

Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle, said: ‘The UEFA EURO 2020 championship is a unique tournament both for football and for law enforcement. With 24 national teams playing in 11 cities across Europe, teaming up is paramount for the safety of the tournament. Europol will enable this cooperation by hosting the dedicated operational centre. Backed by Europol’s capabilities, officers on the ground will be better prepared to ensure a smooth and safe championship.’

The IPCC’s chief of staff, Max Daniel, said: ‘Combining information about public order issues, supporters, places of stay and travel movements by road, air and rail results in an up-to-date and integrated picture. Being able to easily share that information between countries has proven to be very valuable in the past. Police intelligence officers of all participating countries are doing their utmost to ensure that this unique UEFA EURO 2020 championship will be as safe as possible.’

IPCC UEFA EURO 2020 Participants (total number):

EU Member States: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands. 

Non-EU Countries: Azerbaijan, North Macedonia, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom.

Organisations: INTERPOL and UEFA

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