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EU plan to refocus 'Sophia' naval mission fails — report

January 25, 2020

Proposals to revive the "Sophia" naval mission with a focus on enforcing the UN weapons embargo on Libya have broken down, according to a German media report. Italy had expressed skepticism over the plan.

German naval officers, part of the "Sophia" marine mission
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Assanimoghaddam

Plans to refocus the EU's naval mission "Sophia" on Libya fell apart on Friday, when an EU committee failed to reach unanimity in an extraordinary meeting on the topic, according to a report by German newspaper Die Welt.

The EU naval mission "Sophia" was originally launched to stop human trafficking in the Mediterranean before collapsing in March 2019 under pressure from Italy's populist government.

The new report claims that efforts to revive the mission, with a focus on upholding the UN arms embargo agreement against Libya, are unlikely to proceed.

Read more: Opinion: Europe is paying for African migrant deterrence

Several EU representatives, including Italy, Austria, Greece and Hungary have expressed doubts or refused to support a revival of the mission, according to "top sources" quoted by the Die Welt report.

Any refocusing of the naval mission requires the support of all EU member states.

Why did they reject the plan?

Some countries were concerned that the mission would lead to a greater number of migrants arriving in the EU.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who has since stepped down, said Monday that Sophia could be used only if it is "dismantled and reassembled in a completely different way.''

"It must be a mission to monitor the embargo and nothing else," he said.

The governments of Italy, Austria, Hungary and Greece are all dominated by right-wing parties that have expressed skepticism about immigration.

Read more: Opinion: The EU is neglecting its humanitarian duty

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Friday that Germany would be ready to receive more migrants rescued from the sea in the "Sophia" mission. Earlier in the week, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell was eager to point out that the focus of the mission was the UN Libya arms embargo, not to rescue migrants.

"It's clear that the arms embargo requires high-level control and if you want to keep the ceasefire alive someone has to monitor it," Borrell said Monday.

The "Sophia" mission previously rescued tens of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and brought them to Europe.

EU naval rescue mission in question

DPA contributed to this report

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Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH Elliot Douglas
Elliot Douglas Elliot Douglas is a video, audio and online journalist based in Berlin.
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