Blogging on Issues of International and European Security

What response from the European Union to the Libyan crisis?

After six months of efforts by the Libyan insurgency and a NATO air campaign, Colonel Qaddafi’s regime is collapsing. Despite the measures it adopted, the European Union (EU) does not distinguish itself amongst the international diplomatic upheaval, although Libya is one of its close neighbours. The EU should take the opportunity to backLibya’s democratic rebuilding and integrate this assistance in a comprehensive approach of its Mediterranean relations.

The EU’s sensitive positioning towards the crisis in Libya

Observers noticed several measures taken by the EU in attempt to prevent the crisis from escalating[1]. One should acknowledge EU and member states’ humanitarian efforts (by August, it reached €150 million). The opening of an EU office in Benghazi will bring more efficiency to EU actions and could be interpreted as a de facto recognition of the National Transitional Council (NTC) by the EU.

However, the German abstention during the vote of the UN Security Council resolution 1973 has not gone unnoticed. This abstention implies a division of the EU over a security issue. One can discern several European weaknesses behind NATO airstrikes such as the difficulty to reach a consensus between 27 Member States (and more specifically the lack of EU permanent planning and command capabilities, prompting Member States to set up an ad-hoc command structure relying on NATO capabilities). This divergence can be understood as a German reluctance to use force or the lack of political will from northern Member States to invest in the Mediterranean.

Eventually, this dissention makes it impossible for the EU to have a strong diplomatic position and to fully commit itself to the stability of its neighbourhood and thus, to protect its interests. EUFOR Libya is a good example. This military mission aiming at protecting humanitarian operations was planned in April 2011. However, the Council conditioned its deployment to a request that would be issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, while it had the legal opportunity (according to a comprehensive interpretation of the UNSC resolution 1973) to launch the mission independently.[2] If the utility of such a mission could be discussed,[3] its symbolic impact would have been essential.

A necessary EU intervention in Libya

A deeper European response is now necessary. It should address different short and medium term needs.

First, the EU could carry on with its response to the humanitarian situation, if needed and required by the NTC (while fighting is likely to cease within days, security and humanitarian situation remains unclear in some regions of Libya).

The EU should also back the Disarmament, Demobilisation & Reintegration process and the Security Sector Reform to come. Indeed, Libyan security forces are currently composed by regular (or irregular) forces loyal to Qaddafi, armed forces that rallied the insurgency and insurgents without any previous military experience. The EU should all the more assist the Libyans to secure their borders, as chaos in the country has benefitted Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.[4]

The EU should also help Libya in the democratic rebuilding of its institutions. Its civilian and mentoring capabilities are likely to be highly solicited as the police and the legal system are closely associated with the dictatorship, not to mention bribery and corruption issues.

An EU intervention in Libya as part of a comprehensive approach to the Mediterranean

The EU intervention in Libya should be part of a long term and comprehensive approach of the EU to the Arab Spring.

The Mediterranean and Arab world is an essential region for Europe’s stability: its soils contain natural and energy resources, it represents a gate to Europe for thousands of migrants and its population is young. But recent events have also shown destabilising factors: water scarcity, economic gloom and redistribution of wealth issues, dictatorships or authoritative regimes, conflicts in the Near East.

The Libyan crisis has shown Europe that our transatlantic partners do not want to protect our interests for us anymore. The EU must carry out its own security[5]. This security should not be understood as a militarisation of our relationship with the Mediterranean. It should be designed as the planned development of a comprehensive stability policy in this region. This can be done by a more ambitious and integrated Mediterranean EU policy. From assistance, to Rule of Law, to economic cooperation, including technical cooperation in hydraulics or energy production and management, among others,[6] as well as fair trade and trade access opportunities. Such policies would enable the north African countries to reconstruct in a sustainable manner for the benefit of all and create a more secure society.

By guest blogger, Olivier Jacquemet

Also published in French on our blog

[1] Such as an arms embargo, restriction of movement for the regime’s bigwigs and the freezing of their assets by the Council. A list of EU’s decisions and actions can be found here:

[2] See the report on MEP Ana Maria Gomes’ visit to Benghazi (

[3] See ISIS Europe Briefing Note 2011:1 – EU and Libya by Sebastian Bloching (

[4] See (in French) Libye : l’acquisition de missiles sol-air par AQMI inquiète les services de renseignement français, par Jean-Dominique Merchet (

[5] See Mayhem in the Mediterranean: Three Strategic Lessons for Europe, by Sven Biscop, in The Security Policy Brief, EGMONT, Royal Institute for International Relations, 2011 (

[6] See The Arab wolrd in transition: prospects and challenges for a revitalized relationship between Europe and North Africa by Michael Bauer & Christian-Peter Hanelt. Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2011 (

Also read: Reactions of the EU on the Arab uprisings, by ISIS Europe, on:


2 comments on “What response from the European Union to the Libyan crisis?

  1. Pingback: CSDP mission in Libya: “I love you… Neither do I”? : Echo Sierra

  2. Pingback: A UN Support Mission for Libya : Echo Sierra

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