Mattia Toaldo

This brief sets out a new agenda for European support for Libya’s transition, starting with the idea that the current focus on the training of the Libyan armed forces should be broadened.


International commitments and co-ordination

International intervention in Libya, as elsewhere, lacks overall co-ordination and integration among the different programmes. The conclusions of the annual international conference of the Friends of Libya, held in Rome in early March 2014, mentioned the creation of an international partnership for Libya (with no clear specification).

To date, two main instruments of co-operation are available for this, but they face some fundamental challenges.

UNSMIL is tasked with co-ordinating efforts on constitutionmaking and national dialogue, but structurally, it can only carry out operative co-ordination, while most problems today in Libya need political decisions by Western and Middle Eastern national governments.

In theory, the P3+3, which includes the United States, United Kingdom, and France plus Italy, the UN, and the European Union, would be the body where such decisions are made, but it is an informal gathering that neither includes all donors and stakeholders nor any foreign affairs ministers.

If the Friends of Libya are serious about forming an international partnership, then there would also need to be a forum for constant dialogue and interaction between those devising external strategy for Libya and a wide array of Libyan actors, first and foremost, its government.

In fact, this co-ordination should rely on a broader strategy for Libya rather than just on a set of policies for which international actors provide expertise and technical assistance.

While it is fair to say that this could hardly be the product of an annual conference, this nevertheless needs to be kept in mind when Europeans follow up.

Why Libya matters

When looking at the grim picture of the current state of Libya’s transition, one is tempted to look next door for more promising scenarios of international support – starting with Tunisia.

Yet, many of Libya’s problems have direct repercussions for Europeans. For countries like Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, and Austria, Libya is a crucial component of their energy security.

Country Percent of total crude from Libya Ireland 23.3 Austria 21.2 Italy 22 France 15.7 Spain 12.1 Restoring Libya’s oil and gas production is a shared interest for all Europeans as it would diversify energy supplies and guarantee more freedom of action vis-à-vis both Russia and Iran.

But also, Libya is a key hub for human trafficking and illegal immigration. According to Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, “In 2013, approximately 70 percent of arrivals by sea in the European Union occurred on the central Mediterranean route, from Libya to Italy”.

Human trafficking is just one component of the mix between illegality, smuggling, and Jihadism that thrives in what could be defined as the “insecurity belt” stretching from the Sahel to the Sinai, with its central tier in Libya’s southern porous borders.

This includes the smuggling of weapons and establishment of training camps for Jihadis across the belt but often with an origin or a foothold within Libya’s borders.

Ultimately, Europeans cannot afford to have a failed state, both crucial to their energy security and to stemming illegal trafficking, 350km south of Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa. At the same time, a Libya on the right track could be an asset for Europe and for its efforts in the region.

First, because it could take in immigrants from Tunisia, Egypt, and subSaharan Africa. Second, for its financial potential as a country with a small population and high oil revenues. Moreover, Europeans who supported Operation Unified Protector in 2011 did so in the name of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

This includes also a responsibility to rebuild Libya and to make sure its transition gets on track.34 It is not only about moral commitments; it is a crucial component of Europe’s credibility when dealing with other scenarios in which R2P is at stake.

What Europe does for Libya

UNSMIL has a crucial role in supporting Libya’s transition externally. Its mandate covers most aspects of the political transition, including constitution-making, elections, national dialogue, transitional justice, and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes for ex-combatants.

On 14 March 2014, its mandate was extended by another year by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2144. This also includes the “co-ordination and facilitation” of international assistance.

Many European countries see their support of UNSMIL as indirect support of all of its activities. Some of them, including the UK, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, have added their own national programmes in support of both the military and civilian aspects of the transition.

The EU’s current programmes in Libya total €130 million, with the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) accounting for the lion’s share.

After a very slow start, the mission is now operative, and its goal is to help Libyans develop an Integrated Border Management (IBM) mechanism to protect their land and sea borders, which are respectively 4,383km and 1,770km long.

In this respect, Libya presents a conceptual challenge for the EU template of border management: while this focuses on the training of customs officials and border police and providing technical assistance, Libya needs a stronger military presence to defend and control its borders and destroy smuggling routes.

Part of the security assistance also includes capacity building and training for the judiciary and the national police.

A second relevant sector, with €30 million in funding, is migration management, which includes the building of legal frameworks, humanitarian assistance in detention centres, and “voluntary return programmes”.

A third branch is devoted to supporting civil society (€26 million), which is carried out by the European Endowment for Democracy (EED). Several EU member states are deeply involved in supporting Libya’s transition, with a particular focus on security.

At the 2013 G8 summit in Northern Ireland, members agreed to train the Libyan national army, (or General Protection Force, GPF). The US, the UK, Italy, and Turkey, meanwhile, offered to train up to 15,000 Libyan soldiers on their soil, but this programme has taken some time to progress:

(a) Turkey recently completed training for its first class of Libyan recruits, although between one-third and one-half of them dropped out;

(b) Italy’s training programme is underway with the first graduates expected soon; the UK is ready to start; and

(c) the US is planning to conduct its training in Bulgaria, starting in the summer of 2014.

Recruits will need an initial training period of at least four to six months in order to generate some cohesion within each unit. However, to produce the first tangible effects on the state control of Libya’s major cities, the GPF will take some two to three years.

Also, it is still unclear where these graduates will be deployed: the latest idea is that they will constitute a Rapid Deployment Force stationed in Jufra to be used to “pacify” different areas not under the government’s control rather than to keep law and order within the cities.

Meanwhile, France, Italy, and the UK are providing training and support to the Libyan police, with France alone offering to train up to 3,000 policemen and the UK providing containerised, accessible police stations in Tripoli.

It remains unclear, however, whether the new army will be the gendarmerie capable of securing Libyan cities. France’s training of the police is divided between “democratic management of crowds”, for which it has dedicated one third of its resources, and two-thirds for counter-terrorism, reflecting French concerns over the impact of Libya’s chaos on dynamics in the Sahel and the use of its territory as safe havens for Jihadi and Salafi groups.

Germany is heavily involved in DDR programmes and in creating safe arms caches in co-operation with France.

The Libyan government recently reactivated its contract with the Italian company Selex, which is responsible for the electronic border management system that has been deployed in the southeast of Libya, a key area of concern, but running it on all the frontiers would be very expensive.

The UK is particularly involved in capacity building for Libya’s public administration, with several of its officials embedded in Libyan ministries, and it is running a large programme for public finance management.

A large component of UK aid is also devoted to the political transition, with projects on the inclusion and participation of women and people with disabilities as well as a training programme for journalists.

Smaller European countries are no less engaged in Libya. The Netherlands is supporting a training programme for over 30,000 employees of the new Libyan local administrations while working on the professionalisation of Libyan journalists.

Sweden is offering civil society and electoral assistance, while Denmark is supporting conflict resolution projects and working with asylum seekers and refugees.

Most, if not all, of the current projects carried out either by the EU or its member states have encountered two serious problems.

First, the security situation has made working in several parts of Libya (particularly in the east and the south) very complicated for foreign nationals.

Second, the overlapping of a post-regime change and post-conflict situation has made it difficult to rely on local interlocutors.


Mattia Toaldo is a Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations where he works on Libya, the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict and on the European policy in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2011-2013 he was a fellow at the Institute for the Americas in London and a postdoctoral fellow at the British School in Rome and for the Society for Libyan studies where his work focused on Western reactions to the Arab uprisings.






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