EU-Libya: Gaddafi's last stand, Europe dithers
22 February 2011
The bloody repression of the Libyan people by the Gaddafi regime is exacerbating the problem of a Europe faced with revolts in the Arab world, writes the European press, which calls for concrete and coordinated action.
Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya. For two months now the European Union has been a spectator to the wave of protests throughout the Arab world and pondering its role in, and the consequences of, what is happening across the water. And this time, the violent crackdown by the regime of Muammar Gaddafi against the Libyan people is lending a tragic dimension to all this musing.
“'Revolutions are the locomotives of history’, wrote Karl Marx some 160 years ago. A pretty picture. Especially when you regard the Europeans these days, following the turbulent journey of the Arab world in third class and sitting in the last car,” writes Der Standard. “So far they have found nothing better to do than make worried statements. [But] in Libya, the rhetoric of dismay is no longer enough.”
What’s worse, plague or cholera?
Energy, trade and collaboration on blocking immigration from the south are a few of the many issues that make Europe dependent on the Gaddafi regime, writes the Vienna daily. The newspaper notes that Europe is finding it difficult to defend its interests there and has neither the financial nor military leverage nor a coordinated approach on the issue.
The Marshall Plan for the southern shore of the Mediterranean, requested by the Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, will bear fruit only over the very long term, much like the billions that Ashton is bringing in her luggage to the countries concerned. This also holds true for Algeria and Morocco, where similar interests are at stake. “If the train conductor were to ask for their ticket, the Europeans would have to say they’ve come along for the ride as stowaways. This isn’t just embarrassing. The political spot fine will be very dear for Europe,” writes Der Standard.
The reality is that Europeans are in an impossible position, notes Gazeta Wyborcza. In Libya, they are reduced to asking: “What’s worse, plague or cholera?” remarks the Warsaw daily. “Should we still back a terrorist, tamed and alive, in the illusion that after a few reforms the protesters will go home and that this iron-fisted regime will be replaced by pluralism? Or should we close the books on him and back his opponents financially, or even militarily? Europe is at an impasse. On the one hand, it cannot look idly on as Gaddafi’s mercenaries shoot people in the back. On the other, it fears that the vacuum following Gaddafi will be worse.”
Each crisis makes EU countries hesitate
“The problem,” continues Gazeta Wyborcza, “is that doing nothing would be worse, because Europe is facing its greatest challenge since the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. It is a huge test for Europe’s standing in the world and a chance to exert its soft power and negotiating skills. That is why Europe should propose a partnership programme and provide aid to this region in a state of rebellion.”
As a first step, the EU should “announce new rules of the game before another massacre starts,” recommends Jordi Vaquer, head of the CIDOB Foundation, a think tank on international relations, in El País. The EU should respond with a “freezing of all agreements at the first hint of systematic use of force” against the population, by “freezing the bank accounts of all those who hold important positions” in these regimes, and by “recalling ambassadors for consultation, halting the flow of materials that can be used for repression, and supporting prosecutions of those who may have committed crimes against humanity.”
Unfortunately, observes Jordi Vaquer, “each crisis makes EU countries hesitate,” for “in the same way that Libya is so vital to Italy, Morocco is to Spain, Algeria to France, Oman to the United Kingdom, and Jordan to countries that are friendly to Israel, like Germany.” The think tank director believes, however, that “only a position agreed on in advance and brought automatically into play against any government that would set off a spiral of violent repression can shake Europe out of its shameful paralysis.”
Relationship with Gaddafi doesn’t stop just with Berlusconi
What’s more, the states must be able to accept or to escape their contradictions. In the case of Libya, it’s Italy who is the main culprit. “In Europe, it’s called the schizophrenia of rue Froissart,” says La Repubblica. The Rome daily explains how at the entrance to the European Council building on rue Froissart Italian officials issue benevolent statements on behalf of the dictators under fire. Then, once inside the building, Italy votes for resolutions condemning them. It happened with Mubarak and Lukashenko, and now it’s happening with Gaddafi. Italy had to sign the condemnation of the repression in Libya but is opposed to sanctions against Tripoli proposed by Finland.
However, recalls La Stampa, “the relationship with Gaddafi doesn’t stop just with Berlusconi. Libya is a trading partner that all Italian governments have always cherished. In Libya we have our people and our money, and we depend on Libya for energy, trade and investments. The fall of Gaddafi may well be the downfall of a system for us too.