I have been to Libya several times in the last two years and I can measure the progresses made lately toward peace. However, the political divisions and the fragmentation of Libya are still defining a complicated scenario, made worse by the absence of the State in large parts of the country. In this context, violence can still erupt at any time and escalate rapidly. None of the actors can achieve victory by himself, but each can provoke the others into a direct confrontation.
The difficult path toward the elections
The current interim period should end on December 24th with general elections, but the path towards them is fraught with all sort of difficulties and oppositions. Huge efforts will be needed by domestic and international stakeholders to make sure that they take place in a free, fair and credible manner and that all would accept the results. However, a shared vision for the future of the country, a common sense of purpose, and a spirit of compromise among Libyans cannot be generated by international pressure or replaced by procedural mechanisms. It will be primarily up to the Libyans leaders themselves to rise to the challenge for their country.
“A shared vision for the future, a common sense of purpose, and a spirit of compromise among Libyans cannot be generated by international pressure. It will be primarily up to the Libyans leaders themselves to rise to the challenge for their country.”
Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeiba, in office since March this year, is the main actor in charge of ensuring the success of the political process in this very complex environment, with the added challenges of operating without control over the majority of the territory, and, so far, without a budget.
Peace in Libya would be a regional game changer
Peace in Libya would be also a regional game changer, given its strategic location in the Mediterranean, the North of Africa, and the Sahel, as well as its size and economic potential. With a surface equivalent to France, Spain, Italy and Germany put together, a population of only 7 million, and the largest oil reserves in Africa, Libya’s fate has the potential to impact the whole region, both in positive and in negative terms.
“In terms of security, the risks that instability in Libya poses are all too evident with the number of weapons in circulation and the potential of its vast uncontrolled areas to become safe havens for terrorism and organised crime.”
In terms of security, the risks that instability in Libya poses are all too evident with the number of weapons in circulation and the potential of its vast uncontrolled areas to become safe havens for terrorism and organised crime. The current crisis in the Sahel was triggered by events in Libya in 2011, and the recent death of the President of Chad Idriss Deby in a clash with rebels coming from Libya clearly underlines its persistence. With peace in Libya and better control of the South of the country, security in Tunis, Algeria, Chad, Niger, Sudan and, potentially, Egypt would be greatly reinforced.
In economic terms, Libya’s reconstruction will need an investment of around 100 billion USD. The country has substantial resources coming from oil exports, currently 1,2 Million Barrels per day, as well as a Sovereign Fund worth over 60 Billion USD. A recent study by UN ESCWA estimates that the total gains (link is external) for the region from peace in Libya will be worth more than $160 billion over the period 2021-2025; unemployment would decrease by around 6 % in Tunisia, 9% in Egypt, and 14% in Sudan. These are spectacular figures.
In terms of migration, the impact of peace in Libya would also be very significant. The country hosted around 2,5 million foreign workers before the revolution, and 3 million are estimated to be needed in the coming years for reconstruction. Remittances reached the 3 Billion USD in 2013, benefitting almost exclusively Libyan neighbours Egypt and Tunis.
“It is difficult to imagine a single EU policy that would contribute as effectively as the promotion of peace and stability in Libya to the achievement of our priorities in the region.”
Given this potential, it is difficult to imagine a single EU policy that would contribute as effectively as the promotion of peace and stability in Libya to the achievement of our priorities in the region. This brings us to the issue of what we can do better to contribute to peace.
In a context of post-conflict nation, institution building and economic reconstruction our help could be significant and Libyan authorities are very much aware of our readiness to engage. Governance, including in the economic and security area, could be a main focus of our cooperation. It would not require large sums of aid money, because Libya is able to finance its own development, but together with our member states we can have an added value by providing technical expertise, helping find foreign investment, and coordinate with International Financial Institutions.
The immediate priority: consolidate peace and stability
But we are not there yet. The immediate priority is to consolidate peace and stability. Here as well the European Union is still providing an important contribution through its naval operation Irini to the implementation of the United Nations Security Council imposed arms embargo and could further envisage assistance in the security and defence domain within a UN framework of stabilisation.
The December elections provide a key milestone to advance towards political reconciliation. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya has the direct mandate to mediate in this context, and we are strongly supporting their efforts.
Talks are ongoing in the political, security and economic tracks
Talks are ongoing in the political, security and economic tracks, and EU and member states actively participate in them. As co-chairs of the Economic Working Group (together with UN, US and Egypt) we as EU are trying in particular to make sure that the economy becomes a driver for peace instead of a driver for conflict, as has been the case until now. Some progress has been achieved, and the focus now is the unification of economic institutions.
However, we need to reinforce these talks with a sense of urgency; current dynamics will not provide the necessary political energy to generate a sustainable political agreement. EU and member states should be in a position to impact more effectively the process, but that can only happen if we act together: the EU needs a single voice if it wants to have a meaningful contribution.
“EU and member states should be in a position to impact more effectively the peace process in Libya, but that can only happen if we act together: the EU needs a single voice if it wants to have a meaningful contribution.”
One final word about migration. We first need to understand the very specific situation of Libya. It shares more than 4,000 km of borders with six countries (Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia), with a population of over 200 million, all of them significantly poorer than the 7 million Libyans. Borders are little more than lines in the sand in many areas, and, to make things worse, the fragile ethnic balance in the South can be affected by migration movements from neighbouring countries.
The humanitarian conditions of migrants and refugees need of course to be addressed urgently in this context. The appalling conditions of Detention Centres are unacceptable, and improving the treatment of migrants will be central to our work in this area.
“The humanitarian conditions of migrants and refugees need to be addressed urgently in this context. The appalling conditions of Detention Centres are unacceptable, and improving the treatment of migrants will be central to our work in this area.”
Libyans authorities are clearly requesting the reinforcement of EU support in the South of the country, using EU Border Assistance Mission and our other tools to achieve an integrated approach linking border management and security with job creation and improvement of basic services. It is however important to bear in mind that, under the current circumstances, the security situation in the region makes it impossible to establish a stable international presence on the ground.
A more balanced approach to migration in Libya, already under discussion, should include effective border management in the North and the South of the country, the protection of vulnerable migrants and refugees, and migration governance, in particular related to foreign workers needed for reconstruction.
Our security and our prosperity are clearly interlinked
Libya is a key actor for the stability of the Mediterranean, the North of Africa and the Sahel. Our security and our prosperity are clearly interlinked: what is good for Libya is good for Europe. We are ready to do our part and I am looking forward to returning to Libya soon.