17th Feb 2019

EU needs to 'rethink' approach to southern neighbourhood

Top EU officials are visiting Tunisia on Tuesday (31 March) to discuss security and migration as asylum seekers continue to head to the European Union from conflict-ridden Libya.

In a stopover in Malta on his way to Tunis on Monday, EU council president Donald Tusk described the situation in Libya as “a result of total anarchy”.

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  • War in Libya adds to the misery of people seeking refuge in Europe (Photo: BRC)

Speaking alongside Malta’s PM Joseph Muscat, Tusk said there is no “silver bullet” response to a country that has become the main staging ground for people seeking to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Asylum applications in the EU last year increased by 44 percent to 626,000 when compared to 2013. Around one-fifth are Syrians fleeing civil war at home.

The EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, on Monday said between 500,000 and 1 million people are set to leave Libyan shores for Europe.

With recent incursions by Islamic state militants into Libya, the resulting turmoil has left the EU scrambling to find an answer.

Tusk said EU leaders are committed to putting an end to the suffering but ruled out any military intervention.

“What is less clear is how we can help. We need to think it over again. To come up with new, creative solutions. Not to stick to old ideas," he said.

The EU is backing the UN-mediated peace talks in Tripoli to put together a unity government led by its special envoy, Bernardino Leon.

But Leon earlier this month had called on the EU to mount a naval blockade off Libya to prevent the flow of weapons and the illegal export of oil.

"There's a measure that the European Union can take right away: Come out in force to guard the seas off Libya. Italy can't do it alone. It needs help,” Leon told Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Leon’s comments were made around the same time Italy launched what it describes as an annual naval exercise off Libya.

Italian authorities say the deployment of military assets is part of a training exercise that “has nothing to do with other scenarios”.

Asked to comment, Tusk said he is open to the discussions on the blockage initiative with Italy’s PM.

“It is absolutely understandable for me that Italy is the leading country in this issue and we have to think about every initiative, also the initiative of member states,” said Tusk.

Tusk is now in Tunisia along with the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Kerchove.

Meanwhile, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the Alliance wants to expand cooperation with the EU to face new security threats and challenges.

“We also stand ready to work with Libya on defence capacity building when the security situation allows,” he said.

Stoltenberg said Nato is also working Jordan and Iraq.

“We believe we can project stability without always deploying large number of forces,” he said.

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