The Brief: Libya – ‘EU Break It, EU Buy It’

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.


And so to Valletta, where today it’s a sunny 18 degrees, the sky is aqua blue, and the Mediterranean is blood red.

Not literally, of course. But 4,600 migrants died in its tranquil waters in 2016 (nearly twice the death toll of 9/11, if we are doing an atrocity index) and predictions point out a self-evident truth – as the warmer spring weather approaches, so will more numbers from the anarchy in Libya, along the so-called ‘Central Mediterranean’ route.

Yesterday, the Libyan prime minister – well, one of them, at least, the Western-backed one – was in Brussels with a begging bowl for more resources to help stop the people-smuggling.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini sounded a distinctly cautious tone on whether all EU resources being ploughed into that failed state were actually reaching the Libyan people.

Not an unfounded anxiety, but the EU might wish to ponder the US retail maxim – “You Break it, You Buy it.”

The EU – and most specifically, Nicolas Sarkozy – left Libya in the “shit show” (copyright Barack Obama) that it now manifestly is, deposing a ‘strongman’ leader in Muammar Gaddafi, despite the examples of the vacuums left in Iraq and Afghanistan in similar situations.

Today’s nine-point Malta Declaration promises more help for the Libyan coastguard in returning boats, and better camps and facilities on-land in Libya, all backed up (when you cut through the talk of billions of euros for African aid as a whole) with an additional €200m.

It’s akin to a sticking plaster during triage ahead of major open-heart surgery, but the underlying principle seems to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’.  It’s perhaps harsh to criticise Brussels for at least making some humanitarian effort, not least when a holistic solution is so hard to see, but they could at least try to work harder on the symbolism.

As AFP reported from sun-drenched Malta, “As the EU leaders boarded a luxury yacht to cross Malta’s historic harbour to their lunch venue, rescue ships off Libya saved hundreds more people including babies from rickety boats.”

It’s almost enough to make you seasick.


As above, EU leaders are in Malta discussing both migration and the future of the EU, check for all the latest developments. Tonight leaders meet to finalise plans for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, on 25 March.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a visit to Ankara ahead of the summit, where President Erdogan told her to stop using the term “Islamist terror”.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban strengthened ties with Moscow as expected during a visit, just as Ukraine’s president called for more global pressure to be exerted against Vladimir Putin as fighting claimed more lives in eastern Ukraine.

Romania’s government is standing its ground, despite thousands protesting in the streets against its watering-down of anti-corruption laws. The scandal has already pushed the trade minister into resigning. Florin Jianu said it was an “ethical” decision.

The European Parliament’s three biggest political groups have told Council President Donald Tusk that the bloc should reject the United States’ predicted pick for EU ambassador, claiming Ted R. Malloch’s recent disparaging comments about the Union show he will be a “disruptive” force.

Trump’s right-hand man Mike Pence will be in Brussels later this month during a tempestuous time in trans-Atlantic relations.

The vice-president’s stance on abortion, among other issues, has been widely criticised and Sweden’s climate minister has parodied the moment Trump, with Pence watching on, signed an order putting an end to federal funding for any groups supporting abortion.

Trump’s controversial ‘Muslim ban’ has also provoked a number of current and former EU ministers into calling on the leaders meeting in Malta to set up a “rule of law” mission that would help any EU citizens stranded at US airports.

The Austrian government wants to ban full-face veils and this had led its numerous critics to insist that other religious symbols, like crucifixes, should be banned too.

The Apple tax case saga continues, with Dublin acknowledging it is unlikely to challenge the Commission’s €13 billion estimate. An appeal is still pending but don’t expect an end to this anytime soon.

The EU is also dragging its feet on ratifying a treaty that is meant to help the visually impaired access literature.

French voters seem to think that François Fillon should have already fallen on his own sword and pulled out of the race to be the next president, just as Emmanuel Macron was declared the new favourite by a number of polls.

The Brexit vote looks to have come just in time as poor European weather conditions have meant UK supermarkets have imposed a limit on the number of lettuces customers can buy.


Monday is the monthly Foreign Affairs Council, reviewing the situation in Ukraine, Friday’s Malta Declaration on Libya and migration and the situation in Egypt. Expect a rare appearance from the UK’s Boris Johnson, who usually lets an underling attend these things.

Views are the author’s.

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