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Friday, March 11, 2011

Lowest common denominator

EU leaders - still visibly split - have just agreed on a trade-marked "least common denominator" statement on Libya, following today's summit in Brussels. Speaking at the end of the summit, David Cameron said that the EU's 27 leaders were "united, categorical and crystal-clear" that Gaddafi had to go - which is a welcome statement (Gaddafi is a maniac after all) but not much different to what the EU leaders who matter had already called for.

In terms of substance, EU leaders agreed new sanctions against financial institutions linked to the Gaddafi family, adding the Libyan Central Bank and Libyan Investment Authority to the EU asset-freezing list. It also agreed that "contingency planning" involving "all options" should continue, in case Gaddafi and his LSE-educated son, continue to act crazy.

The communique didn't refer to a no-fly zone, however, despite Nicolas Sarkozy calling for "defensive" and "limited" air strikes - something he said he had British support for.

Before the summit, Sarko said,
"We the French and the Britons have given our availability – under the explicit condition that the United Nations want it, the Arab League agrees to it and the Libyan Authorities that we want to be recognised wish it – to carry out targeted, purely defensive actions, and only in the event that Mr. Gaddafi used chemical weapons or the aviation against people who are demonstrating without violence."
The reluctance of other leaders to subscribe to this reasoning means that the UK and France were sidestepped on this point. The EU remains all over the place on a no-fly zone (and France still stands alone in recognizing the Libyan opposition).

This also appears to be the first time that Cameron has openly clashed with EU 'foreign minister' Cathy Ashton, who according to PA, is now warning against a no-fly zone. An EU diplomat is quoted saying:
The efficiency of a no-fly zone is very questionable. Apart from anything else, European command and control facilities would not be able to get a no-fly zone up and running in less than five or six weeks, and Nato is suggesting it would take at least three to four weeks.
All of this is of course being played down by Downing Street.

That the EU's two most credible military powers and only permanent members of the UN security council are seemingly at odds with the other 25 member states illustrates the limitations on the EU's foreign policy ambitions. Although a no-fly zone would almost certainly require US approval and firepower, in Europe, the UK and France are the only game in town if things get really nasty. But still, everyone must be included, no one left out.

Today's meeting was all about EU self-assurance and will have little bearing on on how things turn out on the ground.

1 comment:

Ray said...

They obviously need to set up a review board to discuss the potential for a commitee to be formed, to discuss the creation of a "no Fly Zone" Authority. This would be chaired by someone with vast experience of modern warfare, say Latvia, with a deputy from Bulgaria. Considering the pressure involved in these discussions the members of these commitees would meet in Switzerland on a daily allowance of €60,000 a day (tax free)