EU ready to support Libya transition

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As Muammar Gaddafi's forces scatter, NATO, which has backed Libya's rebels with a bombing campaign, is calling for a peaceful transition of power. Meanwhile, the EU says it will continue to offer support to the Libyan people.

"The coming months and years will test the resourcefulness and determination of the Libyan people. I have no doubt that they will rise to this challenge and that they will unite to ensure that Libya takes its place in the international community as a prosperous, stable and democratic state," EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said today (22 August).

Her comments came just hours after Rebel National Transitional Council Coordinator Adel Dabbechi confirmed that Gaddafi's younger son Saif Al-Islam had been captured.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague, which wants to try Saif along with his father on charges of crimes against humanity, confirmed he was being held and urged his captors to hand him over for trial.

Gaddafi's eldest son Mohammed Al-Gaddafi had surrendered to rebel forces, Dabbechi told Reuters.

In a television interview, the younger Gaddafi said gunmen had surrounded his house, but he later told al-Jazeera in a phone call that he and his family were unharmed.

Delivering on promises

The EU will now have to deliver on its promises to assist a new Libya economically, as well as to help build new institutions in cooperation with the Arab League, the African Union and the UN.

It pledged to do so during the Paris Summit in Support of the Libyan people on 19 March.

On that occasion, permanent EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy said that "we have to help history, but first and foremost we have to support the Libyan people".

With the intention of facilitating political transition and helping to avert a humanitarian crisis, the EU opened an office in rebel capital Benghazi at the end of May.

At a summit of EU leaders in March, the bloc's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, and the European Commission suggested setting up a Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity for the Southern Mediterranean.

The partnership is intended to deepen economic integration and widen market access and political cooperation.

It remains to be seen whether the EU as a whole will react more promptly than individual member states.

At the onset of the Libyan uprising, the EU's first collective reaction came during a meeting of its 27 foreign ministers on 21 February, four days after 17 February's 'Day of Rage' in Tripoli.

Their communiqué restricted itself to demanding an "immediate end to violence". Within days EU member states had started quarrelling amongst themselves: Italy, Malta and Cyprus held out for a week against French, German and Dutch demands to impose sanctions on the Gaddafi family.

While EU leaders were tabling proposals for action, Ashton was among the last to call for sanctions, make contact with the Benghazi-based Transitional National Committee and support military action.

She failed to back the campaign until March, when it was authorised by the UN Security Council and at which point she "welcomed" it.

Ashton's resistance to the imposition of a no-fly zone led to a public row with UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a European Council meeting on 11 March. Germany's decision to abstain from voting on the UN Resolution, which gave the green light to military action, dealt a blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel in key regional elections. 

The next EU Foreign Affairs Council is scheduled for 10 October.


European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the door was now open for freedom and self-determination in Libya.

"The European Union will keep supporting the country in its democratic transition and economic reconstruction, based on social justice, inclusiveness and territorial integrity, together with the international community," they stressed.




UK Prime Minister David Cameron stressed that the transition to a free and democratic Libya should be a "Libyan-led and Libyan-owned process" and that Britain's task was "to do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people, which is for an effective transition to a free, democratic and inclusive Libya".

Cameron said the NATO mission in Libya to protect civilians would continue as long as it was needed, adding that the focus was now on "the urgent work that needs to be done on providing medical and humanitarian aid, diplomatic support, and work through the UN Security Council".

French President Nicolas Sarkozy offered France's full support in ending oppression and dictatorship in Libya. He also urged Gaddafi to prevent further bloodshed and suffering.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek rejoiced over the situation in Libya. 

"Today is a day of joy for Libya and the entire region: Tripoli is about to be free. I congratulate the Libyan people and the National Transitional Council for their courage and determination. Their call for freedom and human dignity has been stronger than Gaddafi's terror," he said.

The future of Libya starts now, he added. "The EU stands firmly on the side of the Libyan people. We offer our help and our active support for managing the transition into a democratic Libya that is governed by the rule of law and by the respect for human rights."

UK MEP Charles Tannock, foreign affairs coordinator for the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament, urged the rebels to resist the temptation to deliver summary justice to Gaddafi, which would deny the wider world an opportunity to make the autocrat answer for his bloody rule.

He also called for apprehended mercenaries to be subjected to due legal process, and if they had not been implicated in war crimes, to be repatriated to their countries of origin with NATO assistance.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-leader of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, called on the EU to propose a strategy in support of Libya's transition and invited Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, to present it at the Parliament's next plenary session on 12-15 September.

"From now on, it is up to the National Transitional Council to guarantee that the process of democratic transition is carried out not in a spirit of revenge but in a spirit of unification of Libyan society," Cohn-Bendit added in a statement. "It is also important at this stage to take the measures necessary to apply international law so that people having committed criminal acts can be judged."

  • 10 Oct.: EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting.
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