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4th Mar 2024

Van Rompuy: EU should take credit for Libya action

  • Van Rompuy on past EU ties with Libya: 'Did we always have good policies in the past? No. Have we corrected this? Yes.' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy has said the Union should take credit for international action which prevented a "bloodbath" in Libya, amid a downgrading of the bloc's common security policy to a food-and-blankets aid mission.

Speaking to MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday (5 April), the Belgian politician said that British, French and UK strikes on Gaddafi targets on 19 March would "not have been possible" without the "clear position" taken on Libya at an EU summit one week earlier.

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Noting that Germany voiced strong disapproval of military action at the time, he said "a massive bloodbath has been avoided ... This is the most important result and deserves the highest attention, more so than the decision-making process."

"From the beginning of the crisis, the European Union was at the forefront: the first to impose tough sanctions; the first to impose a travel ban on leading figures in the regime; the first to freeze Libyan assets; the first to recognise the Interim Transitional National Council as a valid interlocutor," he went on.

"Without European leadership there would have been massacres ... We acted in time and without Europe nothing would have been done at the global level or at the UN level."

Referring to his own and EU leaders' previous close co-operation with Libya villain Colonel Gaddafi and other regional despots, he added: "Did we always have good policies in the past? No. Have we corrected this? Yes."

The Van Rompuy speech comes amid US surprise at the lack of ambition showed by the Union on its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in the context of the Libya conflict.

The Lisbon Treaty says: "The common security and defence policy shall be an integral part of the common foreign and security policy. It shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on civilian and military assets. The Union may use them on missions outside the Union for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security."

It also talks of "the progressive framing of a common defence policy that might lead to a common defence."

The US has not made public statements on the issue. But senior US officials were privately dismayed by an op-ed penned by EU foreign and defence policy chief Catherine Ashton on the eve of coalition strikes in which she signaled that EU-level involvement would be limited to post-conflict kitchen-sink issues such as economic support.

Speaking of the "three M's - money, market access and mobility" in the International Herald and Tribune on 18 March, Ashton noted: "I readily concede that this agenda lacks glamour."

The EU on 1 April agreed to launch a CSDP mission called Eufor in Libya, to be commanded by an Italian admiral out of Rome. Worth a modest €8 million, the mission will see soldiers from EU states help move around aid supplies and refugees if asked to by the UN.

Some confusion exists as to the parameters of the Eufor operation.

Ashton spokesman Michael Mann told EUobserver it would be limited strictly to Libya and would begin work only after hostilities end. "It's logistical support. It's not people with guns firing," he said.

An EU diplomat said the mission could involve "protecting refugee camps." But he added there is no appetite to go into Libya for now and predicted that it will go to Egypt and Tunisia in the name of helping Libya instead. "We are talking about Libya, but we are thinking of Egypt and Tunisia," he said.

With Gaddafi envoys and defectors by turn flying on bilateral missions to Athens and London rather than to Brussels, and with Ashton playing third fiddle in the new Qatar-chaired Libya 'Contact Group', Mann defended his superior's role in post-intervention diplomacy.

"The high representative is in regular contact with her counterparts to make sure all member states are singing from the same hymn sheet," he told press in Brussels on Monday. "Ashton is playing a vital role to bring together the world community on this."

Ashton in her boldest statement to date on Yemen on Tuesday all-but called for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after his forces shot dead another 15 protesters. "I reiterate my call for an orderly political transition to begin without delay," she said.

Speaking at a European Parliament hearing in late March, her top diplomat on the Middle East, Hugues Mingarelli, admitted the EU has little influence in the region, however. "To be realistic, the instruments at our disposal, the opportunities we have, are fairly restricted," he said.

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