Libya is a priority for the EU and we have consistently called for a permanent ceasefire and an effective enforcement of the UN arms embargo. Last January, we gathered with world leaders for the Berlin Conference and took and important step in the efforts for a political solution in Libya and for ending the conflict. Since then, the situation in Libya continues to be very critical and calls for urgent action. Unfortunately the fighting in Libya has even increased over the lasts days, despite the international calls for truce to help contain the Coronavirus pandemic. We know that none of the problems we were focused on before the coronavirus outbreak, including the Libya conflict, has gone away. Indeed the risk is that crises in our neighbourhood get worse.
We have been saying repeatedly that only political solutions and respect of the UN arms embargo is the solution to the Libyan crisis. But diplomacy cannot succeed unless it is backed by action. The EU is now stepping up its commitment and is demonstrating its determination to support the Berlin process. This operation can’t be the solution, but it is an important part of the solution and will contribute to a permanent ceasefire.
That is why, six weeks after a first political agreement was reached between EU Member States, a new military operation is launched in the Mediterranean to turn our statements into action. As we grapple with the Coronavirus crisis and its consequences, the EU continues to play its role in promoting peace on our doorstep.
The main goal of EUNAVFOR MED IRINI – the formal name of the new operation – is to support the implementation of the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council. It will do so by using maritime, aerial and satellite means. It will work closely with the relevant authorities in our Member States and with the relevant EU agencies.
Alongside this main objective, Operation Irini has a series of secondary tasks. It will provide monitoring and surveillance to prevent illicit oil exports from Libya. It will carry out capacity building and training for the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy. And it will support the fight against human smuggling and trafficking networks.
On the same day that EUNAVFOR MED IRINI begins its operations, EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia comes to the end. During almost five years, Operation Sophia has worked in an often challenging environment to counter migrant smuggling and human trafficking. It is also thanks to its action that migratory flows in the Central Mediterranean have been drastically reduced since the peak of the migratory crisis.
I want to salute the dedicated and outstanding work of the European women and men who have served under EU flag in Operation Sophia. I am proud and thankful whenever I see the daily impact of our thousands of women and men deployed in the 16 – soon 17 – EU military and civilian missions and operations. They work every day beyond our borders, on the ground, in all conditions, to help create a stable environment for our partners in the neighbourhood and provide security for Europeans at home.
I am sure that Operation Irini will be vivid proof of the EU’s commitment to contribute to the return to peace and stability in Libya. After all, it is named after Eirene, the ancient Greek goddess of peace. No doubt, the weeks ahead will be very challenging, for Libyans and Europeans. Nobody can afford to wage two wars at the same time. It is therefore crucial that we do all we can to end the conflict in Libya and Operation Irini will help do just that.