The European Commission has proposed starting talks with Libya to increase the bloc's economic and political relations with the African nation. Brussels hopes to complete an agreement by the end of 2008.
The EU Commission said wants to improve relations with key energy suppliers
In part of a drive to improve ties to key energy suppliers, the European Commission proposed Wednesday, Feb. 27, to set up a negotiating mandate, including a free trade deal and an agreement on controlling illegal migration with Libya.
"This is a historic decision," said External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. "Libya is an important player in the Mediterranean region and in Africa, and so far has no framework for relations with the EU."
The EU Commission said it would wait for approval from the bloc's 27 member states before starting to negotiate an agreement with Libya that would include political, social, economic, commercial and cultural ties.
"I am confident that the agreement will create solid and long lasting relations between Libya and the EU," Ferrero-Waldner said.
Part of medics' release deal
Ferrero-Waldner said the medics' release lifted the last stumbling block to ties with Libya
The European Union resumed relations with Tripoli last year after the release of six foreign medics accused of intentionally spreading the virus that causes AIDS to more than 400 children.
To help secure the medics' release, Ferrero-Waldner agreed to work toward improving relations with Libya.
Libya is considered a potentially strategic partner for Europe, but few European capitals have moved to strengthen bilateral ties with the nation, even after sanctions in connection with the 1998 Lockerbie bombing were lifted in 2004.
But Libya's importance is increasing as the EU seeks to diversify its sources of oil and gas beyond Russia, which is the bloc's main energy supplier, and improve control of illegal African immigrants who often cast off across the Mediterranean from Libya on their way to Europe.
Support for WTO bid
France has maintained closer relations to Libya than many other EU countries
The new talks also hope in part to help Libya push through economic and social reforms, and develop trade and economic relations, notably by establishing a free trade agreement.
"An ambitious free trade agreement would intensify cooperation between the EU and Libya on trade and economic issues and would further strengthen and deepen our relationship," said EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, adding that the EU could lend support to Libya's bid to join the World Trade Organization. "These negotiations represent a vital first push forward in Libya's re-integration into the world trading system."
Another aim of the commission, the EU's executive body, is to establish ties and dialogue on issues like security, development and human rights.