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The European parliament and the Tripoli-Athens conflict

November 29, 2022 at 1:45 pm

Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias (right) with his Libyan counterpart, Najla El Mangoush (left), during the statements [Dimitrios Karvountzis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images]

The position expressed by most members of the European Parliament regarding the recent developments in the conflict between the Greek government and the Government of National Unity (GNU) headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh in Libya has several implications and sends messages in different directions. However, this does not mean that the European Union has drawn a clear line regarding the Libyan crisis and its overlap with the issues in the Eastern Mediterranean and is about to take a firm stand on it.

The majority of Members of the European Parliament who supported the decision regarding Libya and its regional and international concerns favoured Greece in the dispute over the agreements that Ankara signed with Tripoli regarding border demarcation in 2019 and oil and gas exploration in 2022. Athens considers the agreements to be illegal and a violation of Greek sovereignty that directly threatens its interests.

The MEPs’ decision, however, was cautious in dealing with the dispute; they were content with urging the GNU to cancel the agreements with Turkiye. It referenced Turkiye in a call to a number of regional and international parties to stop interfering in the conflict. Meanwhile, regarding the issue of foreign forces leaving Libya, the focus was on the Russia-backed Wagner Group.

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It is natural for the European Parliament to support Athens in its position on the conflict over the Eastern Mediterranean, as Greece is a member of the EU, and there are legal justifications related to the conflict that strengthen its position in the face of Turkiye. There was, though, a political motive; or rather, there was undoubtedly a thought process that influenced the position of many MEPs regarding Turkiye in terms of its identity and politics.

The report by the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee issued in June had an impact on developing many of the points contained in the decision in question, especially with regard to the removal of foreign forces and the support of the UN mission in its efforts to reconcile the Libyan parties and reach an agreement based on the constitution, as well as set a date for elections. It is important for the EU to plan an effective role in the Libyan crisis by speaking in a united voice about the Libyan conflict and the way out of it. This is because EU members have differed in their approach to events in Libya, to the extent that France and Italy stood on opposite sides of the conflict, while Europe lost the initiative and its role declined in favour of Russia and Turkiye after the defeat of Khalifa Haftar’s forces that attacked the capital, Tripoli, in 2019.

Up to 77% of migrants face abuse, exploitation and trafficking - Refugee crisis, Libya - Cartoon [Hani Abbas/MiddleEastMonitor]

Up to 77% of migrants face abuse, exploitation and trafficking – Refugee crisis, Libya – Cartoon [Hani Abbas/MiddleEastMonitor]

The parliament’s decision reflects a European position that is opposed to Turkish policy, or at least has reservations. Even so, this decision does not put pressure on European executive bodies, the European Council and the European Commission, to adopt the same position and take practical measures to implement it. The resolution did not criticise Turkiye and merely urged the GNU to cancel the agreements with Ankara, and this in itself is not binding for the European Council and Commission and does not oblige them to adopt a confrontational approach to Turkiye or put pressure on the Tripoli-based government.

The contrast in positions between the European capitals and the absence of a unified vision and position on the Libyan crisis revealed by the parliament’s decision confirms that pulling the executive authority in the EU and the authorities of European capitals towards a firm position on the Libyan issue is unlikely. The EU and its main member states will remain dependent on US support in any serious approach to end the conflict and stop outside parties from getting involved.

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If we add to the aforementioned the sensitivity of the circumstance in the region and the indirect clash between Europe and Russia, as well as the significance of Turkiye and its role in balancing the Russian invasion of Syria, Libya, Azerbaijan and Ukraine, then opening a front with Ankara according to Greek wishes is not likely. Ankara realises this and is employing it to fill the vacuum and manoeuvre in order to make some gains in the vast wealth of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Accordingly, the focus has been on the GNU to satisfy Greece and align with the positions of the European parties with reservations about Turkiye’s foreign policy. In the short term, European policy will be limited to trying to push the Libyans to disengage from Ankara as far as the previously-mentioned agreements are concerned.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.