The EU is not powerless against the people smugglers in Libya. It could take action that would be both tough and clever. What is lacking, in truth, is resolve.
The EU likes to claim that it is a gentle world power. Not a hard one, but a gentle one. Where others are waging wars, the EU talks, until the parties have succumbed to exhaustion. What is actually concealed behind the image of the gentle world power EU, is for the most part cluelessness and helplessness. This can be seen in the fact that Libyan human smugglers send immigrants into the Mediterranean by the thousands on inflatables. And what does the EU do?
It wants to prohibit the export of inflatables to Libya.
If it weren’t so tragic and shameful, it would be a belly laugh.
Does anyone really believe that the immigrant slavers will be impressed by an EU ban on exporting inflatables? Most of the inflatables made “for the refugees” come to Libya from China. Does the EU intend to sanction Beijing? We can just imagine the powers-that-be in China and Russia slapping each other on the back in amusement.
The truth is simple. The EU has allowed itself to be extorted by Libyan smugglers for years. The smugglers are prepared to let thousands drown in the ocean, and because the EU cannot be seen to allow that to happen, these criminals do a splendid business.
In point of fact, the EU is tolerating the world’s greatest market in human beings to proceed on its doorstep. That is insufferable. And it threatens the existence of the EU. If the stream of immigrants from Libya does not diminish, the battle over apportionment will tear the EU apart. Therefore, the battle against the human traffickers is of existential significance for the EU.
It is high time for the EU to be reminded that it was two EU countries — France and Great Britain — that pressed for intervention in Libya. Italy and the USA went along reluctantly, and Germany stayed out of it, thanks to then-Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
This is not about retrospectively knowing-it-all. It is about determining the facts. At the time, the intervening powers had the very best contacts to the Libyan opposition. The flow of information was excellent, cooperation smooth. Only because of that could they ultimately overthrow Khaddafi. In other words, the European military and intelligence services know every warlord who holds power in Libya. And it may be assumed that the people who rebelled against Khaddafi, as well as those who fought for him are in the business of human trafficking — at least a large portion of them.
European governments also know very well to whom they should speak. They know names and addresses. They know to whom pressure must be applied. But the governments don’t want to do it, because they fear the consequences.
Libya is political quicksand. Every step must be carefully considered. But just proceeding as usual is unthinkable. So the EU must act.
What does that mean?
First, France could request a mandate from the UN Security Council, to counter the human trafficking in Libya itself. If that should not succeed, which is quite possible, then the EU will have to proceed without an international mandate. It should begin by penetrating Libya’s territorial waters, to prevent the traffickers from starting their victims on their perilous journey. To this end, the EU should send warships. If NATO participates — as in The Aegean, all the better. Human traffickers understand the language of force. And it would not be used against the immigrants.
Whoever considers that unrealistic, should recall that the EU quite successfully fought piracy off the coast of Somalia. True, that is another story and under different conditions, but it is a story in which EU creativity and determination worked together. A story in which Europe was both clever and tough.
A ship of the NGO Sea-Eye and a German naval vessel take Libyan refugees on board in April, 2017, ca. 20 miles off the Libyan coast.
Mediterranean (not shown): On Libya’s coast, the bodies of several drowned refugees have washed up on the beach. For days, staff of the International Red Crescent have been involved in recovery [of bodies] operations.