By Chiara Loschi

Seven years after the Arab uprisings, Libya’s deinstitutionalization of the established order is far from being a success story.

In 2011, the ‘Arab Spring’ events were a surprise to the EU, its member states and western organizations. With the outbreak of the protests, the EU was forced to face the challenges of reconfiguring its own action beyond its border and the need to acknowledge each country’s unique domestic political situation, of which Libya is a very illuminating example.

Today, the Libyan crisis is still unfolding, and its outcome is utterly uncertain.

The Libyan turmoil upsurged in a country where the EU-Libya relations were virtually nonexistent from 1992 to 1999 and were relaunched only in the late 2000s. In actuality, the Libyan crisis opened a pandora’s box made up of a twisted political scenario imbued with 42 years of authoritarian and uninterrupted personalistic grip on power, upon which the EU wishes to react and elaborate its common security and foreign policy.

The weight of EU commitment to Libya’s political stabilization and security compared to the persistent conflict that thwarts long-term solutions calls for a more in-depth unpacking of the intention-implementation gap and the implementation-local reception gap between on paper and actual outcomes. This is what my co-authors and I have attempted to do in a recent working paper titled “The implementation of EU Crisis Response in Libya: Bridging theory and practice”.

The study focuses on how the EU substantiates its crisis response in Libya, analysing the implementation phase and practitioners’ as well as local actors’ perception that connects decision-makers in Brussels to final beneficiaries in Libya. The investigation is part of the HORIZON2020 research program called EUNPACK, which analyses EU crisis response in a number of countries including Libya, and it investigates two main gaps in the EU intervention.

The international debate accompanying the EU action in Libya; the anxieties of European audiences vis-à-vis perceived threats of migration and terrorism originating in Libya; and the expectations of EU member states are all indications that the stakes are higher than crisis response alone when it comes to Libya, and these dynamics may have sensible implications on the overall EU action in the country.

As a consequence, top-down understandings of policy design must be corroborated by bottom-up investigation of how the EU crisis response is received and perceived by different local actors throughout the conflict cycle, by focusing on practitioners connecting security practices to beneficiaries.

EU’s response to the Libyan crisis after 2014

The Libyan revolts in February 2011 caused a violent reaction by Gaddafi’s regime and prompted the UN Security Council to intervene. By expecting to overthrow Gaddafi in a matter of weeks, UNSC adopted the resolution  1973 establishing a no-fly zone and, in the name of R2P, it authorized member states to end violence against, and abuses of, civilians. EU’s intervention followed the UN but slowly and incoherently.

The EU adopted a panoply of crisis management instruments including diplomatic measures, humanitarian assistance, military and civilian operations.

Libya never joined the EU Barcelona process and never signed any Association Agreement but negotiations on the EU-Libya framework agreement were eventually re-launched in November 2008. In 2009, the Commission issued a Libya Strategy Paper and National Indicative Programme 2011-2013.

The country strategy paper (CSP) envisaged a few priority areas of common interest to be covered in the framework agreement, including fighting illegal immigration in the Mediterranean or terrorism, supporting the country’s hydrocarbons energy resources, creating the bases for successful investment in new sectors and eventually human rights. The negotiations stalled and stopped when political turmoil flared up in early 2011.

Between 2011 and 2014 EU policies towards Libya focused less on a crisis response and more on the role of the international community to accompany legitimate Libyan authorities in post-crisis recovery and institution-building.

In 2014, the partition of the country in at least two opposing camps and the spreading insecurity across the country forced the EU to refocus on crisis definition and response, as well as to relocate international actors including EU delegation.

Our research reveals that the overall framework of Europe’s approach to the Libyan crisis has remained fundamentally unchanged since the 2014 recognition of the security crisis unfolding in Libya.

Confirming the key orientations of the Political Framework for a Crisis Approach of 2014, the European Council concluded that “there is no solution to the Libyan crisis through the use of force” and reiterated support to the institutions built by Libyan Political Agreement (i.e., Presidency Council and Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj).

In practice, however, the analysis suggests that short-term objectives have often taken precedence over the stated strategic goal. EU leaders have sought quick-fix solutions to offer immediate answers to the anxieties of their constituents, who allegedly perceive growing migrant flows from Libya as an existential threat.

Debates held during the electoral campaigns in a number of key European member states have illustrated how proposed crisis management measures primarily aimed to do as little damage as possible to election results.

In other words, as migration became securitized and framed as an emergency, EU leaders appeared to address the needs of European audiences more than those of local stakeholders and vulnerable groups. One could argue that the mismatch between the grandiloquent declarations and the action implemented on the ground is the result of internalizing foreign issues for domestic political purposes.

Our findings show a troubling lack of monitoring and impact evaluation schemes

Our findings show a troubling lack of monitoring and impact evaluation schemes across most of the EU crisis response initiatives in Libya. This grants weight to those who fuel the suspicion that crisis response initiatives are designed not to bear any meaningful consequence in practice.

The decoupling of rhetoric and practice, however, can lead to EU external action and crisis response being perceived as no more than a rhetorical wish-list than seriously considered policy options.

The gap between ambitious objectives and aspirations on the one hand, and the capacity or willingness to achieve them on the other emerges in different areas of EU response policies in Libya, generating distorted expectations among beneficiaries, local counterparts, and European audiences.


Chiara Loschi – Research fellow at EUNPACK HORIZON2020 Research Project EU crisis response in Libya




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