European rivalry has pushed the continent to the fringes by …

(MENAFN – Syndication Bureau) AFP photo: LNA War Information Division

The final communiqué from the Berlin summit on the future of Libya was long, but most observers expected one word: “ceasefire”. It was there, but not as a statement, only as a pledge that the parties would work towards one.

Still, the summit was a sort of diplomatic victory. Berlin had succeeded in bringing together representatives from 12 countries on four continents and three global institutions and in getting the military commander, Khalifa Haftar, to comply with the statement. It was a small price, but one that had eluded Russia the week before, when Haftar in Moscow had walked away without signing a ceasefire, and had escaped Italy a few days before, when the rival of Haftar, Fayez Al Serraj, the head of the internationally recognized administration in Tripoli, refused to meet the Italian Prime Minister in Rome when he learned that Haftar was also in the city.

The Berlin summit gave new impetus to European countries, after a long period when the United Nations process stagnated and the countries of the continent were sidelined.

However, this diplomatic momentum could be short-lived if the countries of the European Union cannot put aside their rivalries. The decline of European influence in Libya did not happen only because of the increased involvement of Ankara and Moscow. In fact, it was the rivalry between European countries themselves that pushed its influence to the fringes and created space for others to enter.

Although it was a NATO-led force that ultimately overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, European influence in Libya has been waning for years, mainly due to the open rivalry between France and Italy. Their main energy companies, Total and Eni, are vying for deals in Libya, but politically there was open war, from 2017, when Emmanuel Macron was elected president and, within weeks, called talks. Libyan peace talks in Paris without inviting the Italian leaders.

The standoff between Paris and Rome was born out of Libyan issues. Long ignored, Libya is part of a political dispute over the ships crossing the Mediterranean, and economic over the gas reserves there.

The political aspect is better known.

As chaos raged in Libya, its long coastline became North Africa’s main point of departure for migrants from across the continent, many of whom headed to Italy. The consequences for Italian politics were swift, as the country swung to the right.

But there is also a broader political standoff: the Libyan conflict has had repercussions in West Africa, where France is heavily involved, and Paris still sees itself as one of the EU’s main intermediaries. and did not want to give up this position on migration and security in Rome. , quite simply because the Italian coasts were more affected by the arrival of boats. These tensions have led to periodic wars of words, with France even recalling its ambassador to Rome a year ago.

There is another reason for Europe’s sudden diplomatic push into Libya and Franco-Italian tensions, and it lies in the exploitation of the vast gas reserves under the Mediterranean.

Since the enormous Zohr gas field was discovered off the Egyptian coast in 2015 and the Leviathan gas field off the Israeli coast, there has been a rush to reorganize political ties in order to take advantage of these. reserves and export them for sale.

He brought a new urgency to the bitter conflicts. Turkey’s relations with Cyprus and Greece, Israel’s relations with Egypt and the Palestinians, and the European Union’s relations with Ankara have all been affected. Russia is also heavily involved, as the country supplies 40% of Europe’s annual gas, which is clearly threatened by the discovery of new reserves.

So when Turkey signed a surprise deal with Libya in December to create an exclusive economic zone across the Mediterranean, it caused a stir across the European Union. The deal could block Egyptian and Israeli attempts to sell gas to Europe. With the new Russian-Turkish gas pipeline launched this month, European capitals were scrambling to respond to this sudden outburst of a burgeoning Turkish-Russian-Libyan alliance.

This entry space for Turkey and Russia was created mainly by the Franco-Italian rivalry. Italy has tried to support the Al Serraj administration but also to be a peace mediator; France has quietly supported Haftar. Neither has offered a clear plan for Libya.

Rather, it belongs to those who are most willing to use force, which at the moment means the states of Turkey and Russia, and Haftar’s forces. Unlike Italy and France, Turkey and Russia found themselves on either side of a conflict – as they had done in Syria before – but managed to come together to chart a course to be continued.

The communiqué negotiated by Berlin cannot hold, because it tries to freeze the status quo of a conflict still very moving. There has been no condemnation of the stationing of Turkish troops in the country – Syrian troops, in fact, adding another unpredictable layer to the conflict – despite Egypt’s protests against these new troops next door. There was also no plan on what to do with Haftar’s troops, who might still attempt to move towards Tripoli.

If Europe is to truly find a way back to relevance in Libya, it will have to do more than organize big summits with global players. It will take a plan and resources to make a difference on the ground. Because while the European countries quarreled among themselves on the margins, others pushed into the center of the battlefield in Libya.

Faisal Al Yafai is currently writing a book on the Middle East and is a frequent commentator on international TV news channels. He has worked for news organizations such as The Guardian and the BBC, and has reported on the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.


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