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More than good will needed

Barbara Wesel Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*
Barbara Wesel
April 18, 2016

The prime minister-designate of Libya's unity government does not even rule his capital. The EU wants to support him fully but both sides have different goals, writes DW's Barbara Wesel.

Libya Fayez al-Sarraj
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Fayez al-Sarraj (above) has long been the West's best hope for a stable future in Libya. Even though the designated leader of the Libyan unity government cannot move around freely in his own capital, he still wants to recover possession of the first ministries and begin their operation. "When our airplane took off, fighting in the streets started again," reports German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on his brief visit to Tripoli.

Europeans fear chaos and new refugees

The German, French, Italian and British foreign ministers have been visiting Libya in a continuous stream. If their good will and their promises could accomplish anything, then Sarraj would have great opportunities. But both sides are actually pursuing different priorities.

The Europeans are mainly driven by the fear of a black hole in North Africa, a "failed state," which is developing into a permanent cradle of jihadism, terrorism, arms and human smuggling. Libya is just 300 kilometers across the sea from Italy, so the country is a fairly close neighbor. At the same time, the EU fears the revival of the Eastern Mediterranean refugee route and a new influx of refugees because the route through Greece is now blocked.

The EU and Libya have different goals

The EU countries are now advising on various measures to stabilize the new unity government, while Italy and the UK are contemplating the possibility of military missions. They primarily want to curb the spread of the so-called "Islamic State," prevent the smuggling of weapons and cut off the refugee route from Libya. The new tragedy in the Mediterranean that has probably caused hundreds of deaths off the Egyptian coast shows how justified this concern is.

The problem is that prime minister-designate Sarraj's priority list is different: He must first build up a basic level of security for his citizens because Libya has been hit hard by kidnappings and violent crime. At the same time, he needs to raise money to pay salaries. He must put oil production as well as some central government institutions back on track. Only when the social and economic conditions have improved for the people will the unity government have a chance of stabilizing and disarming rebel militias. So the battle against IS in the eastern part of the country plays a lesser role for Tripolis.

Barbara Wesel
DW's Barbara WeselImage: DW/B. Riegert

The reconstruction of Libya comes first

What Libya needs is development aid, a great Marshall Plan (the European Recovery Program after World War II), to help it revive the economy as quickly as possible. The EU is currently discussing a 100-million-euro fund - and that will not be nearly enough. Apart from that, Fayez al-Sarraj has thus far avoided asking the West for military aid, as some had expected. He knows that his political legitimacy must come from within the country and most citizens do not want new military intervention.

If the EU imposed its own agenda on the Libyans, it would probably not work. The country must be given a chance to make its own decisions and get back on its own feet through its own efforts - albeit with international assistance. Only then can it become a partner for European needs. Until then, the EU has to find other ways to deal with the refugees arriving from Africa. Libya as a safe third country will remain a dream for some time to come.

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