Another doomed EU attempt to interfere in Libya?

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Union (1st from the right) went to Vienna where she participated in a Ministerial meeting for Libya. There she met with Fayez Serraj, Chairman of the Libyan Presidential Council (Libyan Prime Minister) (1st from the left), in the presence of Helga Schmid, Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) (2nd from the right). Date: 16/05/2016, Location: Vienna. © European Union, 2016 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Samuel Kubani.

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Union (1st from the right) went to Vienna where she participated in a Ministerial meeting for Libya. There she met with Fayez Serraj, Chairman of the Libyan Presidential Council (Libyan Prime Minister) (1st from the left), in the presence of Helga Schmid, Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) (2nd from the right). Date: 16/05/2016, Location: Vienna. © European Union, 2016 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Samuel Kubani.

Last Monday, the Italian coastguard rescued a round number of 2,000 immigrants and refugees in the central Mediterranean off the Libyan waters. In those fifteen operations the Italian coastguard was aided by two ships of the country’s navy, another two ships operated by the medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières – MSF) and an Irish military vessel. In two other incidents an Italian coastguard ship cooperated with the Maltese authorities in the rescue of 230 immigrants and then supported a merchant ship, which was carrying 400 more immigrants and refugees. And all that in the brief time of 24 hours.

Refugees/immigrants now target Italy from Libya

Undoubtedly, the flow of immigrants and refugees from Asia and Africa targeting Europe has, as things stand now, changed course, abandoning the Aegean shores of Turkey and the Greek islands and now using the endless coast of Libya. It’s rather certain that this is not the outcome of the successful implementation of the EU – Turkey agreement for the Aegean Sea. As a matter of fact, the immigrant and refugee flows from Turkey to the Greek islands have now dropped to single digit numbers on daily basis.

The real reason for the change of flows is that the ‘Turkey – Greek islands – Balkan corridor’ root to central Europe and more precisely to Germany, has since last March being definitively and effectively shut down, in the borders between northern Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  Actually, the approximately 10,000 refugees and immigrants who are blocked for months in the area near the Greek village of Idomeni, are presently willingly or forcefully transferred elsewhere in Greece, away from the borders.

Presumably, very few of them would have imagined that the trip from Asia or Africa could end up in a closed camp somewhere in Greece. Since bad news travels fast, there are no new perspective takers of the non existing anymore ‘Balkan Corridor’. This path to Europe is now firmly closed.

Turkey definitively shatters the agreement

To be reminded, that the EU and Turkey have concluded an agreement, which foresees the forceful return to Turkey, of those who irregularly cross the narrow sea straits between that country and the Greek islands. As for the Syrians amongst them, the agreement states that an equal number of Syrians, will be flown from Turkey to the EU countries, which are willing to accept them.

This arrangement was initiated on 4 April but worked for just single digit relocations. In any case, the entire agreement between the EU and Turkey doesn’t seem to hold well at all, for many reasons. For one thing its architect, the former Prime Minister Ahment Davutoglu was dismissed some days ago by the country’s ‘Sultan’, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who attacked the agreement once more this week.

Futile Brussels planning

During the past months the EU has created two ways of legally accepting refugees and immigrants. The first category is the Syrians who are flown directly from Turkey to an EU country, but as mentioned above, this group proved insignificant due to the zeroing of the relevant numbers. The more important route for orderly acceptance of immigrants/refugees in the EU is the relocation or resettlement of those who are stuck in Greece and Italy. Presently, more than 50,000 of them are blocked in Greece, but their number doesn’t seem to increase noticeably.  In Italy though, the flows seem to swell on a daily basis, as indicated here above.

Regrettably, the EU policies to confront the expected intensification of flows during the summer, do not seem to work. Last week the European Commission published its First Report on relocation and resettlement of immigrants/refugees from Greece and Italy. According to the report, on 16 March, the EU had set a target to relocate at least 20,000 persons by mid-May. Obviously this target has not been met.

Reporting failure

The Report clearly states that “Only 355 additional persons have been relocated during the latest reporting period, bringing the total number of relocated applicants from Greece and Italy to 1500”. The acknowledgment that the “Overall, progress remains unsatisfactory”, is clearly an understatement. Brussels reckons however that there is a growing predicament, with “the increase of arrivals to Italy” from Libya.

In view of this, the EU remembered that Libya is at the mercy of 2500 armed groups, with the most ferocious and better organized of them being the local version of the ISIS butchers. To counter the expansion of ISIS and stem the immigrants flows, Brussels decided to support a questionable person to rule the chaos; a certain Mr. Serraj. Reportedly, he is the most ‘cooperative’ of all Libyans. He was briefly named, nobody knows how and by whom, as President of the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord. Mind you, there are another two governments in Libya and thousands of warlords, who form a constantly changing cloud of alliances.

The obedient Mr. Serraj

This Mr. Serraj sent last Monday a letter to Brussels saying in essence that he agrees with…what the EU has decided about Libya. According to a statement by the HR/VT Federica Mogherini, “the Libyan Prime Minister Serraj has written to request rapid EU support contributing to the training of the Libyan Navy and Coast Guard, as well as the security service”.

In short, this is an open invitation for the EU military to disembark in Libya and create a safe zone, in which the heroic Libyan navy, coast guard and security services will be developed under the ‘guidance’ of the European armed forces. The rest of the country, at the exception of the oil-rings and the pipelines, can obviously go to hell. It’s humanly impossible for foreign military ‘advisers’ to control and restore order to the entire country. This is a lesson learned well in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Grab just a part of Libya

Anyway, the EU war ships can try to seal off the Libyan coasts and disrupt the sailing of any fishing boat carrying immigrants or refugees, because those boats wouldn’t be authorized by the country’s ‘legitimate authorities’. Given then, that the EU military have been invited to do so by the country’s ‘lawful government’, the UN may possibly agree for the physical presence of European military on the ground, if Russia and China find something equally precious to trade with the West.

To this effect, last week the EU Council of ministers decided  “to enhance the capacity of EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia to disrupt the business model of human smugglers and trafficking networks and to contribute to broader security in support of the legitimate Libyan authorities”.  It looks good on paper but can it be realized? Let’s see.

Block the immigrants

For one thing, the EU will try to block the immigrant and refugee flows from sailing to Europe, and ‘hopefully’ keep them on the shores. At the same time, Europe will get paid for its services by Libya’s foreign wealth and oil incomes, for ‘developing’ the armed forces and the ‘state’ structures under the ‘legitimate’ government of Mr. Serraj. It’s a beautiful world, isn’t it? But can Mr. Serraj deliver what he promises, which is to defeat ISIS and restore peace and order without strong western military presence on the ground?

ISIS is not an easy adversary and Serraj has failed so far to unite a strong local alliance around him. His national unity government is rejected by both the internationally recognized government in Tobruk and the rival government in Tripoli. It may turn out that this is another bound to fail attempt of Brussels to set foot in Libya, after the West destroyed the only force that could keep the country under one rule; the Gaddafi regime. The unfortunate eventuality is that, if the West fails to control the Libyan chaos, Italy will pay the price for the increase of immigrant and refugee arrivals from Libya. As for the ISIS, it’s probably more difficult to defeat it in Libya than in Syria and Iraq.

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