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8th May 2021

France alienates fellow EU countries on Libya

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's surprise decision to formally recognise Libyan rebels in Benghazi as the legitimate government of Libya caused dismay at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Thursday (10 March).

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle in an unusually candid press briefing said he was sitting next to French foreign minister Alain Juppe in the EU capital when the news broke, complaining that he had not been pre-notified and that Mr Sarkozy appears to have acted "on a whim".

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  • Berlin believes the Sarkozy move is a public relations stunt (Photo: elysee.fr)

He added that the French position is "not the German position or the European position."

Berlin believes the Sarkozy move is a public relations stunt following recent revelations that his prime minister and former foreign minister took gifts from dictators in Egypt and Tunisia shortly before the revolutions.

It also believes the move is linked to the 2012 presidential elections in France, with the latest polls indicating that Mr Sarkozy will not make the second round.

Italy as well distanced itself from the French position. Foreign minister Franco Frattini told press that the UN and EU should send new fact-finding missions to Benghazi before making any decisions.

Belgian foreign minister Steven Vanackere said there is a "difference between engagement and recognition." Swedish FM Carl Bildt tweeted: "Sweden recognizes states - not regimes. And most other EU countries are the same. Somewhat unclear on what France does."

A spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton noted that there was a "near consensus" in the room that the EU must make its decision on the Benghazi-based National Libyan Council in concert with the UN and the Arab League.

He added that most EU countries want to keep talking to moderate members of the Gaddafi regime to keep alive the chance of a negotiated solution.

For his part, France's Mr Juppe tried to backpedal on the Sarkozy move. "He said the news was misreported - that Sarkozy had only said it [the National Libyan Council] is a legitimate interlocutor and that we must explore the option of recognition. But he [Juppe] didn't say this officially. It was more in the corridors," an EU source noted.

As the ministers were leaving the building, the French national news agency AFP reported that Paris is keen to go even further.

The agency quoted an unnamed French official as saying Mr Sarkozy will at a special summit on Libya on Friday recommend to fellow EU leaders to strike three Gaddafi targets: a military airport in Sirte, another one in Sebha and a Gaddafi command centre in Bab al-Azizia.

EU leaders in their declaration on Friday are set to tell Gaddafi that he must step down and to agree that any military action must have a UN Security Council mandate and the political blessing of the Arab League and the African Union.

"The Gaddafi regime is finished. This is clear," Italy's Mr Frattini said. "All the ministers said that the Gaddafi regime is over but nobody knows how to translate that statement into action ... I don't think he will leave just because we tell him to."

Representing the former colonial power in Libya, which has in recent years transferred billions of euros of cash and hundreds of millions of euros of arms to Tripoli, Mr Frattini added that: "Italy has a special responsibility [to help solve the crisis] because of its historic relationship with the Libyan people."

Italian delegates on Thursday circulated a three-part masterplan for the conflict.

On the diplomatic side, Italy wants EU leaders to declare "support for the political aspirations" of the Benghazi rebels and to press Gaddafi to start a "dialogue of reconciliation ... based on the pre-condition that he will step down."

If this fails, it wants the EU to close its embassies in Tripoli and to swiftly impose the asset-freeze on Gaddafi's EU-lodged billions.

In terms of multilateral action, it wants the UN to send a fact-finding mission to Libya to "collect evidence of atrocities" which can be used to prosecute Gaddafi in The Hague and to justify a UN mandate for military action.

On the military side, it wants EU or EU and Nato warships to blockade Gaddafi seaports to make sure no illegal weapons get in and to act as a "deterrent" to further violence. In the second phase, it wants Nato to impose a no-fly zone.

Mr Frattini also said he would help Ms Ashton's crisis-response chief Agostino Miozzo to make a second fact-finding mission to Benghazi following his visit to Tripoli on Sunday.

EUobserver understands that Ms Ashton's people are not keen to go due to the volatile security situation in the region.

BRUSSELS / 10 MARCH 2011 - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton talks about the possibility of a no-fly zone over Libya and the EU's plan for putting more economic and political pressure on Moammar Gaddafi.

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