EU’s Failed Efforts in Libya: In Search of a Strategy That Wasn’t

Written by | Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Libya, a failed state in the European Union’s neighborhood, is a textbook example of that kind of place for which the EU’s foreign policy instruments were designed. Since the 2011 NATO intervention that toppled Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Brussels has deployed most of its crises response instruments including the newest tools under the 2013 revamp of the European External Action Service (EEAS). However, despite the tremendous effort, almost nothing has worked out in line with the intended liberal peace-building approach. Libya’s security situation has not improved and sustained democratic political transformation has not taken place.

In contrast, the EU has been struggling to make an impact in the conflict-ridden country with migration containment being the lowest common denominator for any EU action. Despite the narrow focus, EU actions have likely reached their ceiling when the Central Mediterranean route into Europe saw a record number of crossings in 2016, with more than 180,000 migrants intercepted and as many as 5,000 casualties.

At the end of 2015, the United Nations managed to broker a deal for a government of national unity called the Presidency Council. Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj is trying to get 800 million euros in military equipment from the Europeans, which he claims are needed to curb migration. However, al-Serraj is struggling to assert his authority against a competing government in the east and as long as this situation persists, any foreign assistance is poised to be ineffective and likely also counter-productive if military equipment falls into the wrong hands.

Because the implemented EU mechanisms have delivered very little despite the EU’s struggle, the Libyan crisis is constantly pushing for a review of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) to make it less of a crisis management tool and more of an overall policy for the improvement of the EU’s neighborhood. While the EU has been consistent in prioritizing security interests over ‘shared prosperity’ and democracy promotion, the Arab Spring has clearly demonstrated that a ‘security and stability first’ approach is not always successful at preventing the region from falling prey to political instability.

Therefore, the focus of the ENP has now shifted towards stabilization and work for the Libyans with the Libyans. The EU is now seeking to address issues beyond migration, guarantee inclusiveness, support the political process, and deliver the services that the Libyans are struggling with, such as healthcare and social network. However, despite this shift and changes in the EU’s approach, all these ingredients still make neither for a solution to the Libyan crisis nor for a consistent strategy. The situation in Libya is very complex and unquestionably difficult. Developing a comprehensive strategy is now imperative since isolated activities undertaken by the EU or individual member states are not likely to improve conditions in this conflict-torn country.

‘Libya: The Strategy That Wasn’t’ – Commentary by Toby Vogel – Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

(The Commentary can be downloaded here)

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