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Speech by HR/VP Mogherini at the plenary session of the European parliament on the situation in Libya and the Mediterranean

Strasbourg, 11 September 2018, 11/09/2018 - 22:45, UNIQUE ID: 180911_9
HR/VP speeches

Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the plenary session of the European parliament on the situation in Libya and the Mediterranean

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Grazie presidente,

Vorrei ringraziarla personalmente per l’iniziativa del Parlamento di avere questo punto in agenda questa sera, in un momento - come ha giustamente ricordato - in cui la Libia ha bisogno davvero del sostegno, del supporto dell’Unione Europea in quanto Unione Europea, di tutte le istituzioni dell’Unione europea in questo momento drammatico, non soltanto nell’interesse della Libia e dei libici, ma anche nell’interesse dell’Unione. Spero dunque che la discussione, che purtroppo vedo non coinvolge moltissimi colleghi parlamentari ma spero che sia di qualità, rifletta questo bisogno forte che c’è di unità e questo senso di urgenza sull’affrontare uniti come istituzioni europee una situazione che è davvero per noi prioritaria, come Unione Europea e per la nostra amicizia con la Libia.

Ancora ieri abbiamo visto una nuova escalation di violenza a Tripoli e attorno a Tripoli, con differenti milizie che competono per le risorse e per il potere. E abbiamo visto civili, inclusi migranti, essere di nuovo vittime di scambi di colpi di arma da fuoco, e importanti infrastrutture distrutte. Questo ci dice che la violenza in Libia, nonostante alcuni passi fatti, sta ancora boccando un paese che avrebbe un immenso potenziale sia di sviluppo umano sia di sviluppo economico.

The attack on the National Oil Corporation yesterday, like the attack on the Electoral Commission on 2 May, are both a symptom and cause of the instability in Libya and undermine the ability of the state to serve the Libyan people.

The ceasefire is fragile, but it is holding. And let me stress it today, because we have seen statements and declarations in the last couple of hours, it needs to continue to be respected. It is important, from this hemicycle tonight, to pass a strong message with our united voice. Different actors inside Libya should refrain from stoking tensions not just by their actions, but also by their words. Libya needs serenity in this moment and not inflammatory statements.

When the latest escalation started, I was first of all in contact with the UN Special Representative Salameh, supporting his work that has been essential in brokering a ceasefire. We also immediately responded with humanitarian assistance, sending doctors, paramedics and essential equipment.

But I want to stress this: Beyond the latest escalation, our engagement has been constant through the years, and particularly in recent months.

The European Union’s Delegation has now returned to Tripoli. The last time we discussed Libya, in May, your Parliamentary delegation had just come back from Tripoli after a long time without visits for clear reasons, and you, President Tajani, also visited shortly afterwards. I was there in July, honoured to be able to visit and open the EU offices in Tripoli and being able to tell the Libyan authorities and the Libyan people: We are back. We have always been here with our projects, with our support, our work, but we are also back physically, which is important.  I reported to the Foreign Affairs Council right after I returned to Brussels.

Days ago I spoke again to President Serraj, and we agreed to meet at the UN General Assembly in New York in a couple of weeks. And Libya will be high on the agenda in New York, including at the EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting that I will convene as the High Representative.

Let me focus now on four issues that have been and are central to our engagement.

First of all, the political transition. Two and a half million Libyans have registered to vote, showing their desire to turn the page. Tens of town-hall meetings have been organised all around the country, in difficult conditions and with our support. The Libyan people have the right to choose their representatives safely and freely through the ballot box, and we are helping the Electoral Commission in this, before they were attacked in May and even more after that.

As I’ve said before, the Libyans have to know exactly what they are voting for. A solid constitutional framework has to be agreed before the elections. It would be imprudent to elect a President in a legal vacuum. This has always been our common European position, and I know that the European Parliament’s delegation conveyed these messages to both the High Council of State and the House of Representatives during their visit in May.

Second, the security situation. The Council is reviewing the mandate of both our civilian mission and military operation, working with the Libyan authorities, EUBAM and Operation Sophia.

EUBAM plays an important role on border management, and we know how key this issue is for territorial borders of Libya, for migration management, all sorts of trafficking and also counter-terrorism. But EUBAM also works on law enforcement and criminal justice: it has facilitated training for the judicial police and the criminal investigations department, and works with Libyan officials on border management.

Operation Sophia, as you know, is training the Libyan coastguard and enforcing the UN Security Council Resolutions on the arms and oil embargoes. It is carrying on the responsibility and duty that comes also from the UN system. Its strategic review is underway and all Member States – I have discussed this both with Defence and Foreign Ministers in Vienna two weeks ago - have confirmed that they want to preserve the Operation’s essential work for Libya and for Europe. I cannot overemphasise how crucial it is that we confirm our commitment to Libya’s security with both our missions, EUBAM and Sophia, working at land and at sea.

Third issue, the economic situation. We have discussed it at length with Foreign Ministers in July, where we had Libya on the agenda; and this is also essential to help stabilise the country and meet the aspirations of the Libyan people. Together with the rest of the international community, we have managed to contain the July oil crisis, but the underlying issues remain and could flare up again at any moment.

The UN Security Council will renew UNSMIL's mandate on Thursday this week and the Special Representative has asked the mission to act on economic reforms, wealth distribution and on uniting the financial institutions. This is an issue that has been put at the heart of the work by the UN Special Representative and this is an issue that the Libyan authorities are identifying as the key element for handling and managing the current situation in Libya, and I fully support this view.

Handling the economic situation, in particular economic reforms, wealth distribution and uniting the financial institutions of the country will be key part of our work. We fully support this agenda, and to this aim, we have joined the Economic Dialogue chaired by the US, with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Our goal is to help Libya implement reforms to ensure that the revenues deriving from oil can be distributed in a transparent manner, and benefit the people of Libya.

Finally, on migration. In our work with the African Union and the United Nations that we started after the EU-African Union summit in Abidjan last November, we have freed thousands of people from detention centres in Libya, together with the IOM and UNHCR and in close partnership with the African Union, changing the approach from partnership and cooperative point of view.

But the lives and rights of thousands of migrants continue to be threatened, even more so due to the spiral of violence in the country; they can become very often the first target and the first victim of the violence. All parties should ensure unhindered access for UNHCR and IOM, both inside and outside detention centres and all obstacles to their ability to fully operate should be removed.

We will continue to work towards emptying the detention centres – providing those who want to go back home with an opportunity to do so, and opening a safe path to Europe for those that have the right to international protection. Emptying the detention centres remains one of our key objectives, with good results achieved so far, but the security situation obviously also has an impact on that work.

On the point of international protection, EU Member States have a special responsibility. So I call on them to accelerate the pace of evacuations from Libya through Niger. As we work with IOM on voluntary returns of migrants that were trapped in Libya and want to go back, we also have responsibility and duty to give international protection to those who need and have the right to international protection. It’s a matter of credibility and a matter of efficiency.

This goes also for our collective investment in the field of migration. The European Union has done its part, with the Commission investing more resources in the EU Trust Fund for Africa. It is now up to Member States to do their part, in line with the commitments taken at the June European Council, and invest more money in Africa. Member States need to do their part here, because the institutions have increased enormously the amount of money we invest in Africa, not only in traditional fields, such as development and humanitarian aid, peace and security, but also on economic issues, trade, investments, good governance and rule of law, human rights, women and youth participation, on many other issues, like digital or infrastructure, energy, climate change. But we need Member States not only to say we need to invest more in Africa, but also to invest more in Africa themselves, with a partnership approach.

Having said that, it is also true that the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in the first part of the year – almost 9 months - has gone down by 80% in comparison with the same period last year. And this is the result of the common partnership we have established with Libya, with the UN and its agencies, IOM and UNHCR, with the African partners. But again, we need Member States to put more resources and more money on it.

We have always been close to the Libyan people. I mentioned migration as the last point, as the main messages today to Libya and the Libyans needs to be that our work with them, for them has them at the centre. We care about Libya not just because it’s the crossing point for migrants, but for Libya itself– this is the centre of our work. We have always been close to the Libyan people, investing in their healthcare and in basic services, in security and in local governance. It is even more important to do it now. It’s important for the Libyans, for us, Europeans, because there is no European security and stability if there is not security and stability in Libya.

Our collective responsibility today is to remain a united and strong partner for Libya and for the United Nations, as we are the first and most relevant supporter of their crucial work. I trust the positions of the Parliament will reflect the strong need of the European Union to pay attention to Libya, as a matter of priority, and in full unity.

Thank you.


[Closing remarks]

I started this debate by saying I hope - I trust - that this debate tonight will give not only Europeans but also the Libyans the picture of a united European Union. Can I start by saying you are 22 in this Hemicycle tonight discussing Libya, and I think you expressed at least 15 different positions. You are asking me to represent a strong, united European position. If I had to represent your views (and it is not my job), it would be a difficult task.

This is to make you understand that the effort we are trying to do is to represent a united, strong – not only political – position, but also action; with Libyans, putting the interest of the Libyans first, not the interests of one group, or one militia or one militia against the other, but the Libyan citizens.

Because you are perfectly right: reality on the ground is different from the theory of the negotiations. But those thousands of Libyans that have been registering to vote in the last months are asking for normality in their lives and are knowing very well that the state does not exist - and has never existed in Libya. But they want it. They want the oil revenues to benefit a normal organisation of services. They want the richness of their country and their natural resources to benefit normal people. They are asking for a normal life, and this is our first thought; this is what guides our action: trying to create the unity that maybe you cannot find in this Hemicycle – I hope yes – but among our Member States.

And let me be very clear on elections, because I have heard your voices and I know very well what is the current debate on this, especially among commentators and in the media. We do have a clear, common European Union position that I have been expressing in these months, including to our Libyan interlocutors, on which we have been working with the UN Special Representative [Ghassan Salamé] on a daily basis. Elections will need to take place first of all in a sustainable security environment; secondly, with a clear constitutional and legal framework - Libyans need to know for what they are asked to vote for. And we need to have the reasonable certainty that all different stakeholders will accept the result of the elections the day after the elections.

Then it is not for anybody else to define the date. That is why we have an Electoral Commission that we are supporting, because we want the Libyans to run the process - to decide on the process-, but they need our help, they need our support, from the basic financial need to have computers in the offices to the even more basic need to have offices, because with the attack they had in May, they could not even use the offices anymore.

So we are doing this work, we are trying to empower the Libyans to decide for themselves and to try to help the United Nations to run this difficult political process in a way that gives an answer to the demand of the Libyan people to have institutions that function, which is, I think, a natural expectation of anybody in the world. And I will continue discussing this and working on this, not only with the UN Special Representative Salamé in New York in a couple of weeks’ time, but also with our Libyan interlocutors and with the main regional players, because what is essential is that we coordinate this work not only with the UN, not only among ourselves in the European Union, but also that we coordinate with the neighbouring countries, with the African Union and with the Arab League. And believe me, it is quite something.

But I think that, on the support of the process of a political transition, compared to a few years ago, we have a better international and regional understanding of the needs that need to be addressed.

On migration: for me personally it is quite painful, after all the fights and all the work in these years, swimming against the tide. And you know very well that the mainstream in the European Union’s Member States and even in this Parliament is not to put focus and priority on saving lives. This has been my priority, and this is why today we have [Operation] Sophia at sea that is fighting the traffickers, trying to train the Libyan coastguards, together with the NGOs and with the UN humanitarian agencies that are doing the training.

We cannot be selective on when we like the UN agencies or the NGOs and when we do not, or when we ignore that they are working with us. We cannot pick and choose. The work we are trying to do is exactly because we know there is a problem. You can forget it and complain and do nothing, or you can try to engage and you can try to have a different kind of picture. Is it perfect? Far from it. Is it better than before? Starting to get better. And maybe at risk of getting worse now again, because the fight against militias is creating a different kind of dynamic.

But this is the reason why we have added to the mandate of Operation Sophia the training of the Libyan coastguards, including on human rights standards and including with the UN agencies and with the NGOs, because we want that to start to be part of the DNA of the extremely limited institutional work that is done there. Because we cannot say we need to empower the Libyans without interfering and then say it is useless, they cannot run neither the country nor the territorial waters. It is a contradiction in terms.

So what we need to do is to work with them on the international standards and try to upgrade the levels not only of efficiency, but also of respect of human rights. This is the same kind of work we have been doing and we are continuing to do in extremely difficult conditions on the detention centres, where we finally managed – together with the African Union, which I want to thank, and together with the IOM [International Organisation for Migration] and UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights], which I would like to thank, because when we started this work, they were not even present in the country, and now we are there together.

When we started this work a couple of years ago, I remember perfectly well the first meetings we had with the UNCHR and the IOM, and they were telling us: ‘No way we are going back to Libya, we are not there, we are not operating there, we only have a few local staff.’ And we have been working together in these years to bring them back, to be ourselves back - and finally we are - and to work with our African partners.

I fully share with you – and I said it at the beginning – that most of our Member States are not doing their part, especially when it comes to giving international protection to those in need. The issue of the refugees that are entitled to protection that are in Niger needs to be addressed by Member States. There is a commitment that needs to be respected. That is clear. And I appreciate you raising your voice on this as well as – I have heard that much tonight from you on this, but I trust we agree on that – on the resources we allocate for our partnership with countries of origin and transit, because they need our support in this.

So priority number one is to diminish the number of people dying inside Libya, at sea, and in the desert before they enter Libya. Second is also reducing the number of migrants arriving, because we are working in destroying the system of business of the traffickers. These are the objectives we have. Is it easy? Is it accomplished? No, it is not easy and it is not accomplished yet. But the trend changed compared to when we had nothing – no European Union policy or presence on this fight and that was just four years ago, no policy at all. No European Union presence at sea at all, at land at all, no work on this file. It was left to single Member States.

So I think that we need to keep working very hard on this, keeping in mind first and foremost the facts some of you have mentioned. We cannot talk about Libya only because we are worried about the migrants. I agree with you: there is some frustration. My experience is this: the biggest frustration of the Libyans is when we remember that Libya exists only in relation to the number of migrants arriving in Europe, whereas they have been suffering for years, for different reasons: first because of a dictatorship and then because of a state of conflict, and they deserve to have a normal country and a normal life.

Thank you.

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