The European Council earlier this week prolonged the operations of the EU’s naval mission in the Mediterranean despite some voices that the Operation Sophia is not effective enough at handling people-smuggling networks. The mandate was extended by year and a half until December 2018 and the operation will function as a United Nations-approved mission. The UK government had insisted at the beginning of this month that the mission should be discontinued in its current form but the Council gave a unanimous ‘yes’ to the extension and even approved more objectives to be achieved.
Operation Sophia will newly encompass a monitoring system aiming to streamline the training of the Libyan coastguard, which has already been a integral part of its mandate. It will now also additionally carry out more surveillance in order to fight illegal oil exports. To that end, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini commented that “as a matter of priority, we will start in the coming days the revision of the operational plan in order to include the new tasks.”
Operation Sophia was launched as a search and rescue mission. In this regard, the EU has acknowledged its success and stressed that more than 30,000 lives have been saved thanks to the mission. However, the operation is now trying to incorporate extra measures to dismantle the smuggler networks, including the destruction of boats used to ship people across the Mediterranean Sea. There is a plan in place for Sophia to enter its third phase, in which Libya would allow access to its territorial waters to tackle the smugglers. The EU has also additionally adopted measures that curb sales of outboard motor and dinghy sales.