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18th Jan 2019

EU calls emergency Libya summit for 11 March

  • Barroso (c) and Gaddafi at G8 summit in Italy 2009. Crooke: 'They've been too busy talking at the top table' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU leaders plan to hold a special summit on the Libya crisis in Brussels on 11 March, the same day that leaders from the 17 euro-using countries will hold a mini-summit on joint economic governance.

"I will make proposals to the European Council on the strategic lines of the European Union's reaction to developments in Libya and in our southern neighbourhood," EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in a written statement on Tuesday (1 March).

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The self-styled "grey mouse" of EU politics called the meeting under pressure from France and the UK, the former colonial 'Great Powers' in north Africa. Italy, Poland and Spain also backed the idea.

An EU diplomat said France is keen to impose new sanctions on Gaddafi. The extra measures are to target regime-linked companies to prevent him from hiding money. But they are unlikely to touch Libyan oil exporters.

France is also keen to debate military support for humanitarian aid, economic assistance for the wider region and a general "reset" in EU relations with Maghreb countries.

The diplomatic contact noted that new sanctions could be ready by Thursday and that the summit could be brought forward if "something atrocious" happens in Libya before next week.

A Turkish diplomat remarked: "11 March is still quite some time away in view of the rapidly changing situation in Libya. I hope that the EU will want to consult with us on the subject. Better still would be to invite our prime minister to the summit."

Germany was initially reluctant to hold the Libya meeting, with German diplomats saying as late as Monday afternoon that the French idea is "not serious."

The doubling-up with the eurozone event is politically awkward for Berlin.

The group-of-17 meeting is a German initiative to get weaker euro-members to sign up to a legally-binding German model of fiscal discipline in what could be giant leap forward in the history of EU integration.

Berlin has rejected public calls by non-euro countries, primarily Poland, to let them take part.

On 11 March Polish prime minister Donald Tusk will come to the EU Council building in Brussels in the morning to talk about Libya. But he will have to go home at lunchtime when the doors slam shut for the euro event.

Poland and Germany declined to comment.

'Great Powers' unwelcome

For his part Alastair Crooke, a former high-level EU advisor on the Middle East who now runs an NGO in Beirut, said the best thing the EU and US can do is to stay out of events in north Africa.

"There is a deep mistrust here which goes back to the 1920s when the Great Powers, Britain and France, promised people independence and what they got was neo-colonial occupation," he explained.

He noted that EU diplomacy is starting from scratch after the revolutions: "They've been too busy talking at the top table with Gaddafi and [former Egyptian leader] Mubarak to have any depth of contacts with the opposition forces on the ground."

Mr Crooke added that Iran is staying out of Libya because it understands the situation better than the West.

"At this stage it [the opposition movement] is not a political structure. It's something much more profound and much more rooted in a human response to circumstances ... All revolutions generate a dominant narrative at some stage, core myths and ideas about society that give it some meaning for ordinary people. Here it is too soon even for that. Any outsider should be careful about intervention."

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