EU officially launches its first naval mission against migrant smugglers

Federica Mogherini receives Moussa Faki, Chadian Minister for Foreign Affairs and African Integration (EC Audiovisual Services, 17/06/2015)

Federica Mogherini receives Moussa Faki, Chadian Minister for Foreign Affairs and African Integration (EC Audiovisual Services, 17/06/2015)

The European Union has officially taken a decision yesterday regarding the staggering migrants crisis that is hitting Europe this year. The EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Luxembourg has agreed to launch a mission against migrant-smugglers in Libya, which formally represents the first, big step of the EU in this unprecedented emergency.

Although it will be limited for now to intelligence-gathering because any further move would require UN clearance as well as Libyan consent, the mission is indeed part of a wider European plan to face the wave of migrants making the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea.

“Unanimity and speed”

“We will start implementing the first phase of the operation in the coming days. This covers information-gathering and patrolling on the high seas to support the detection and monitoring of smuggling networks”, EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini reportedly underlined, confirming that the first deployments of the mission are expected to start within a week.

High Representative Mogherini also expressed her satisfaction for this initial agreement. “I am impressed by the unanimity and the speed at which we have managed to put this in place”, she stressed.

A European response

Month after month, in the last few years, the migrant crisis has evolved from a problemematic to a dramatic, horrific emergency and it is clear now that EU authorities are finally trying to step up a European response to somehow regain all the time lost.

That’s why EU nations want to get the full operation ready to go as soon as possible, which at this phase is being limited to EU boat planes operating in international waters and skies and participating in rescue actions when needed.

2015 the deadliest year

EU governments have been largely supportive of military action since a proposal was made public for the first time back in April, after more than 800 migrants drowned at the coasts of Italy. That tragedy only represented a small piece of the enormous humanitarian crisis that the Mediterranean is suffering every day.

The French-founded humanitarian non-governmental organization Medecins Sans Frontieres officially said that the year 2015 is feared to become the deadliest year yet for those risking to cross the Mediterranean, with already more than 100,000 asylum seekers having battled with the sea so far.

Invasive actions

There are sights however that something is moving. Last week, two diplomats from EU nations confirmed this by telling the Associated Press that the EU would be using ships, planes and drones for surveillance on the traffickers. At the same time it will be staying away from much more delicate invasive operations, which are expected in later phases of the operation.

According to Reuters, a second phase would then consider boarding ships, arresting smugglers and disabling boats on the high seas, while a third one could even involve similar operations in Libyan waters or Special Forces missions in the mainland.

“Ministers would only be launching phase one, which is essentially intelligence-gathering on the high seas. They would only have a legal mandate to launch phase one in the absence of a Security Council resolution,” one EU diplomat said, as reported by Reuters last week, speaking in conditions of anonymity.

Libyan turmoil

Libya is going through chaos now, and we should be very aware of this. Libya has suffered deep turmoil since dictator Colonel Muammar Gadhafi was deposed and then killed in 2011, a fact that is certainly connected to the EU foreign policy of the late 2000s. There has been just chaos ever since, with a dramatic turn of events last year, when Islamic extremists seized the capital, Tripoli, and set up a rival government.

The total lack of firm interlocutors of the past two years has represented one of the biggest issues for the EU, as there’s basically no one to set a decisive coast-control policy with. The presence of Islamic State’s troops in the shattered country, which are trying to assume control over territory, is moreover worsening the situation, and forcing thousands of Libyans trying to escape to Europe.

High Representative Mogherini underlined the difficulties again yesterday in Luxembourg. “We have discussed that [an agreement with Libya] with the Libyan authorities”, she declared. “It is a process that is linked to the political process. I hope that it can move forward”, she added.

Still long way to go

Earning Libya’s agreement for further steps is still not an easy thing, but it’s clear that the EU and the UN are trying to put extra efforts. More than 20 Libyan representatives were in Berlin for the UN talks, two weeks ago, but many sources reported that the Libyan envoys in the German capital were “very unhappy” with most of the discussed peace proposals.

All in all is a sign that something is moving but still there’s a very complex diplomatic process to be set up and deploy. If Libya will not accept a power-sharing agreement and put an end to years of fighting, any other effort will just go in vain, and no considerable achievement is likely to be reached.

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