ISTANBUL (TURKISH JOURNAL) – By Janet Ekstract – EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell was the push behind a decision by 27 EU foreign ministers to agree on a new monitoring program to make sure the UN arms embargo in Libya is being enforced. As Borrell explained: “We agreed to launch a new operation in the Mediterranean, Operation Sophia will be closed.” He added: “This new operation will have as a goal to implement the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council.” Operation Sophia’s goal was to prevent human trafficking in the Mediterranean but stopped sending ships last March after Italy said it would not take any more migrants rescued at sea.
Details on the new plan are expected to be finalized in coming weeks and to be agreed on at the next EU foreign affairs meeting in March. Previously, Borrell had warned the EU that it needed to be more proactive in decisionmaking when it came to international crises such as the Libya conflict. This new mission is expected to deploy aerial, satellite and naval monitoring to ensure the UN arms embargo is being implemented.
Speaking to the press, Borrell explained: “In accordance with the agreed mandate, the mission will have a different area of operation than Operation Sophia, which previously was covering the whole Libyan coast,” Borrell added: “But if we want to secure the arms embargo, we have to concentrate our attention to the Eastern part of the Mediterranean, where the arms are coming from,” and indicated that EU military staff will define the area of operation to be laid out.
In addition, Borrell said: “The mission will also maintain another secondary support task, namely fighting organised crime responsible for migration and continued training of the Libyan coast guard and navy,” He also said that EU27 acknowledged “legitimate concerns” of some member states about the mission’s future impact on migration flows and said this will be “carefully monitored and reported to the operation commander.”
“But if we want to secure the arms embargo, we have to concentrate our attention to the Eastern part of the Mediterranean, where the arms are coming from,” he said, adding that EU military staff will define the area of operation accordingly.
In a compromise to assuage Austria’s concerns that any naval mission could help more migrants reach Europe, EU ships will stop and inspect suspicious vessels in the eastern Mediterranean, where most arms smuggling takes place, beyond migrant routes.
Austria had initially been the only EU member state to give an abstaining vote on the EU monitoring mission because of its concern about more migrants entering Europe via sea routes but Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said the mission’s compromise is acceptable. Prior to Austria’s dropping their abstention, Borrell had made it clear that it was unacceptable for a country like Austria without a navy to block an EU naval mission.
Clearly, with the EU’s new chief diplomat, Europe is seeing a ‘new day’ in learning to unify on international crises that as Borrell explained: “We should be able to act…not every day making comments, expressing concern.” He stressed that the bloc must be able to act decisively on foreign policy decisions. Borrell also said the new mission will be “carefully monitored and reported to the operation commander.”
The EU has pledged to make sure the operation doesn’t end up being one of rescuing migrants and has pledged that “maritime assets will be withdrawn from the relevant area” if it appears that is the situation.