The dangerous and dramatic escalation of these hours in the Libyan battlefield imposes reflections and concrete actions both from Italy and Europe. Despite the proportions of the Covid-19 emergency, and the dramatic impact it is having on the global economy. A few miles from our shores, we are witnessing a conflict that has dramatized since 2011, having turned de facto into a proxy war.
Before this situation, our Government is committed to putting Libya back at the centre of the European agenda. With the Berlin Summit last January, in the face of an intra-state conflict between the GNA militia in Tripoli, recognised by the UN, and General Haftar’s LNA, the countries of the European Union, have, through the embargo and the activation of Operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI, set what seems to be the minimum condition to avoid a continuous and bloody escalation: to stop the flow of weapons that the two protagonists of the conflict are receiving from external actors.
The IRINI mission must be operational as soon as possible: only by stopping these flows, it is possible, reasonably speaking, to reach a de-escalation that allows the resumption of a dialogue between the parties that, even within them, are much more heterogeneous than what can appear from the simplistic and schematic reconstructions. The same uncertainty on the ground should be seized as soon as possible by the international community to relaunch negotiations and national dialogue between the different factions in Libya.
It is a difficult challenge, not only for Europe but also for our country, given the severe emergencies due to the pandemic. However, we need to understand why we need to work for Libya. It is vital to reiterate that instability in Libya, with a persisting state of conflict, increases the risk of strengthening extremist groups and destabilising neighbouring countries. It is a threat not only to Italy but to the Mediterranean basin as a whole. As a country overlooking the Mediterranean, and which draws its economic strength from this stretch of sea in terms of maritime transport, energy flows, trade, and cooperation, we must work to bring the conflict in Libya to an end.
Italy’s approach to cooperation in the Euro-Mediterranean area – but not only – is decidedly innovative and inclusive. It is an equal partnership. We want to create a donor-beneficiary relationship, not one-directional but bi-directional. We aim at building a relationship where both actors, donor – Italy – and beneficiary – Countries – are fully aware of the mutual benefit of cooperation within the framework of interdependence, now evident in the new global order.
Italy is present in Libya with numerous activities. In the two years 2017-2018, 43 million Euros were donated by the Italian Development Cooperation and around 79.3 million Euros as a contribution of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI). More than 43 million euros for 2017 have been allocated by DGIT (Directorate General of Italians Abroad) to the Africa Fund for activities in Libya, in addition to 2 million for 2018.
In November 2018, within the framework of delegated cooperation, Italy was chosen by the European Union to manage European funds for 22 million euros. The money was destined to projects in favour of 24 municipalities in Libya for the reconstruction of roads, bridges, etc., and for the redevelopment of the municipalities, also from an administrative point of view.
Another fundamental aspect is the geographical dimension in the Libyan question. Indeed, we must not forget that Libya borders on the Sahel region, forming a unique corridor of preference for numerous traffics. It is a fragile area, plagued by persistent problems of poverty and development and closely interconnected with the security dynamics of North Africa and the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. The Sahel, moreover, is affected by a crisis in which regional conflict dynamics are intertwined with underlying local tensions.
On a trans-national level, security problems are connected to intensified radicalisation, jihadist activity and organised forms of crime. Unprecedented seizures have confirmed the massive return of international cocaine trafficking in the region. At the same time, the growth of synthetic opiate flows, such as Tramadol, is driven by an exponentially growing demand for consumption, especially in North Africa.
Finally, the progressive discovery of an auriferous strand running through the entire region has stimulated a vibrant mining industry. However, it seems to remain artisanal and informal. There are fears that the proceeds may be intercepted by armed groups of various kinds, with the creation of a protection racket by armed non-state groups.
The economic cycle of the area, based on circular migratory flows, has undergone pressure due to the reduction of the flows. Such pressure consequently led to illegal activities, consolidated more hierarchically structured criminal organisations, and generated an overlapping of trafficking and human trafficking. There are many activities that Italy supports in partnership with UNHCR, IOM and other agencies in the Sahel to counter criminal activities related to the fight against smuggling of migrants. It is essential to create for the population alternative economic options to the easy and immediately profitable ones offered by crime and terrorist groups.
Development cooperation is essential in this area. For example, in Agadez, in the Niger desert, which I visited, there are various activities aimed precisely at creating resilience in the population regarding the options offered by crime. The local Government itself is engaged together with many international partners – both countries and international organisations – in this process of development and resilience. It is a considerable effort that we cannot fail to recognise and support.
Italy has long been aware of the importance of adopting a holistic and broad approach for the area concerned. It has extended its strategic dimension and depth well beyond the Libyan sphere. We are committed to stabilising the Sahel both in terms of political-diplomatic processes and development. During the first General Assembly of the Sahel Alliance, held in Nouakchott last February, I had the opportunity to reiterate this concept.
We are also militarily committed to countering these challenges in the Sahel. Our armed forces operate within the framework of bilateral stabilisation missions both under the aegis of the UN and the European Union. These are actions aimed at strengthening the capacity of the authorities of Niger and the G5 Sahel countries (Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, and Burkina Faso) to control the territory and contribute to border surveillance activities. In this multilateral effort, our country works to develop a national and international approach in the fight against terrorism and organised crime.
The stability of Libya, as well as the Sahel, are matters of direct interest to us. We are committed to implementing long-term strategies and structural responses. We aim at addressing all the challenges affecting this region (climate change, desertification, control of migration flows, fight against transnational organised crime and terrorism). If Libya remains a battlefield, it will not be possible to take real action. For this reason, it is fundamental that Italy and Europe are fully committed to the lasting stability of the country.