The Brief, powered by Orgalim – Proxies to a civil war

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA/EFE]

Until the last few weeks, most of Europe had happily ignored the civil war on its doorstep. The war in Libya between Faiez el Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) and General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has been raging for several years.

Last April, the dialogue between the two sides came to an official end when General Haftar’s Libyan National Army launched its offensive on Tripoli which, eight months later, is still ongoing, at the cost already of several thousand lives and the displacement of well over 100,000 people.

Complicating an already nigh-on intractable conflict is a plethora of proxy battles between Libya’s neighbours in the region.

The meddlers-in-chief are Turkey, Russia, Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.

Turkey and Qatar support the GNA – which is also backed by the United Nations – with weapons and other support, while the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are behind the LNA.

On the diplomatic front, Haftar’s position is bolstered by perceived support from France and Russia, while Italy and the United Kingdom firmly back the GNA. The Trump administration has hedged its bets so far.

The EU, meanwhile, has stood back from the conflict, while France, the UK, Italy and others have pursued their own domestic agendas. Lest we forget, the origins of the Libyan civil war lie in the French and British-led ousting (and assassination) of Muammar Gaddafi during the Arab Spring back in 2011.

Back in September, Germany announced it would host a summit in Berlin intended to end international meddling and force all the Libyan players back to the negotiating table. The summit will now, belatedly, take place on Sunday (19 January).

The chances of the summit producing a peace deal were already slim to none before the latest front was opened, courtesy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In late November, Erdogan and Serraj agreed a deal which paved the way for Turkey to send more military hardware, and possibly troops, in exchange for Serraj’s government agreeing favourable border and energy exploration areas in the Mediterranean.

Locked in a battle for his own survival, it’s not hard to see why Serraj agreed. But Erdogan’s aggression has, unsurprisingly, prompted a furious response from Athens.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis says he will block any European Union peace deal for Libya unless the maritime deal between Turkey and Libya is scrapped. Meanwhile, Greece has boosted its own ties with Haftar and has said it is ready to send ‘forces’ to Libya to help monitor the situation.

Curiously, Mitsotakis has not been invited to the Berlin summit (though Turkey has), and even more curious is the fact that the German government has given no explanation for the snub.

These proxy battles and diplomatic missteps illustrate why the peace summit has been repeatedly delayed since last autumn and why it is almost certain to fail. They also speak volumes about the EU’s so-called soft power and the idea of ‘speaking with one voice’ in foreign and security affairs.

It is hard to believe that the Berlin summit is part of a peace process for Libya when none of the foreign states involved are ready to abandon their own allies and power plays in the country.

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Look out for…

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is hosting talks aimed to end the crisis in Libya and has invited the US, Russia, China, UK, France, Italy, EU and the UN as well as the two rivals for control of Libya Faiez el-Serraj, Prime Minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar. An invitation was also sent to Turkey, the African Union, the Arab League, the Republic of Congo, Algeria, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Also: EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss Libya conference aftermath, Sahel and climate diplomacy.

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