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.


European leverage

Europe’s ability to influence the transition in Libya is stronger than elsewhere and efforts to that end should therefore be more ambitious.

The toolbox available to European governments and organisations can be summarised in five areas of leverage that Europe can consider either simultaneously or in different stages. The Libyans want and need training for their security forces, and Europeans are best placed and willing to do that.

Consequently, this is a crucial bargaining chip with those groups that aim to control the institutions in Tripoli to which these forces will respond.

Denial of access to Europe is another powerful tool. As part of the pending sanctions system, the EU keeps a list of individuals and companies that cannot travel or do business in its territory.

In co-operation with the Libyan government, this tool can be used to discourage illegal behaviour in a way that is similar to UNSCR 2146, which forbids the illegal sale of oil and gas from occupied energy facilities.

Obviously, the more multilateral the better: the EU should seek the co-operation of all European Free Trade Association countries, in addition to Turkey.

Frozen assets, some of which are not liquid while others have not been clearly identified. UNSCR 1970 and 1973 in 2011 imposed a freeze on assets from the former regime and from Gaddafi’s inner circle.

Libya’s government seems in no hurry to unfreeze them, and, given its decision-making and implementation capacity, this is a wise choice.

Nevertheless, this is a huge pool of money that could be used by the Libyan government for targeted projects in support of the political transition, for education, and for economic diversification.

Europeans could help to individuate the frozen assets and also in making them liquid and quickly expendable.

Energy revenues constitute leverage with the Libyan government, once production resumes. True, Europe needs Libyan energy, but historically, the reverse has also been true: Libya needs cash flow from oil to stay afloat.

Substituting European customers with customers in Asia can happen only in the medium term, well beyond the chances of survival of the current elite if oil revenues are zero. Europeans can also offer investments and know-how.

Traditionally, and even under Gaddafi, Libya has looked to European knowhow for technical expertise and also to diversify its economy and the investments of its sovereign wealth fund.

The way forward for European policy in Libya

In the aftermath of OUP, European governments were careful to uphold Libyan ownership of the transition. This was the right choice: no one knows better than Libyans what is needed for their country.

Unfortunately, this has impacted results because international actors seem to lack professional and legitimate interlocutors on the Libyan side.

Europeans cannot solve this problem; it is up to the Libyans to choose their leaders and representatives, and even the best-crafted aid programmes are doomed to fail if there is no authority in Libya to implement them.

Nevertheless, Europeans can use their leverage to more effectively encourage a broad cohort of Libyan transition actors to pursue that transition constructively.

Crisis management based on the security emergency would hardly solve any problems, as security and militia-rule are a symptom of wider political problems.

The slow pace of Libya’s transition and the confusion about interlocutors should not lead to an absence of long-term thinking. Many of Libya’s problems have been entrenched over years and therefore need strategic patience and long-term planning to address them efficiently and effectively.

The EU, its member states, Norway, and Turkey can focus on five baskets of policies, which should be pursued simultaneously:

Build continuous international co-ordination

Co-ordination of international aid programmes is always problematic, and Libya needs more of it.

Nevertheless, international intervention in Libya also needs strategic political decisions to be constantly updated based on the rapidly changing events.

This is why an annual conference of the Friends of Libya is not enough. The strategic nature of these decisions cannot be left to UNSMIL: Libyans need to know that certain decisions have the full backing of national governments at the highest levels.

The proposed international partnership for Libya, for example, which could be like the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee that works on aid programmes for the Palestinian Authority, would need to include representatives of Libyan institutions and have a strong technical and monitoring support structure.

This International Partnership for Libya could carry out some or all of the following tasks:

Co-ordinate strategic planning of international support for Libya in between annual conferences of the Friends of Libya.

Guarantee that international pledges, particularly those taken at annual conferences, do not remain on paper.

Offer expertise in the management of the sovereign fund of the LIA and help in the recovery of all assets.

Provide regular updates on the Libyan economy as well as in other sectors that Libyan representatives may wish to add.

Encourage transparency by publishing, either on its website or on a specific Libyan “open data” government website, all contracts, bids, and budgets.

One potential outcome of the International Partnership, particularly if it is organised around regular meetings, would be to encourage the different Libyan actors to consult one another more and co-ordinate better.

There are ongoing discussions to prepare for a follow-up meeting to the Rome conference to be held in June, with different partners pushing to have it either in Libya or in another Western capital.

This meeting could focus on co-ordinating the efforts on security and security sector reform, while involving a variety of concerned Libyan actors and showing European support for (or even pressure on) all armed powerbrokers to stop fighting and enter the political process.

In all cases, Libyan ownership of the process should be emphasised, and Libyan representatives should have an important say in the agenda and evaluating outcomes.

The composition of this partnership should reflect the UN role (through UNSMIL) and the EU’s role in Libya’s transition. Ultimately, while the partnership would be key in improving international co-ordination, donors should bear few illusions about the immediate progress that such a body would be able to achieve given the de facto power vacuum in Libya.

This is why it is important to simultaneously address the issues of political legitimacy, governance, and the political process, while starting from the bottom up by supporting local authorities.

Support the political process and national dialogue

The complexity of Libya’s transition requires that Europeans reject a “box-ticking” approach, in which there is a checklist of steps (such as parliamentary and presidential elections or approving a constitution) that need to be carried out in a certain time frame, regardless of inclusivity or of the actual implementation of specific reforms.

For instance, a hasty approval of a non-consensual constitution may actually worsen security by further alienating specific groups. The constitution-making process can be split into two components.

First would be a “bill of rights” that includes the rights and duties of Libyan citizens along with the main principles of legislation and judicial interpretation.

The second component would be an agreement on the ground rules for the functioning of institutions and a clarification of the roles of the legislative and executive branches, including, for example, a decision as to whether the next president will be elected by voters or by parliament.

Ideally, the elaboration of the two components should take place simultaneously, but given the time pressure and the fact that the national dialogue process has only just started, this is fanciful.

A more realistic approach would be to complete the second component first and leave the elaboration of the bill of rights for when the plenum is filled and the National Dialogue commission is moving ahead.

This would be on the lines of Tunisia’s “mini-constitution”: a document setting up the ground rules that would give legitimacy to institutions while ensuring that basic rights are discussed in the most inclusive manner.

In the meantime, issues and court cases regarding human rights could be solved according to the International Declaration of Human Rights and all international conventions and agreements to which Libya is signatory.

As in the past, Europeans can provide technical assistance to organise elections for parliament and the constitutional referendum. Several European countries could play an important informal mediating role, particularly those like Ireland or Poland that have either a large Libyan diaspora and/or recent experience in post-regime and/or post-conflict transition.

Along with that, Europeans should support two other processes. Once the National Dialogue commission is formed, it will need assistance and funding to organise inclusive meetings around the country on the lines of what is already happening with the preparatory commission. If the UN establishes an international fund, as is currently being considered, Europeans should be the first to contribute to it.

Civil society, both formal and informal, will need to be trained and supported, and current programmes, both by the EU and by single European governments, should be boosted.

The second process that needs European assistance is transitional justice. Libya does not need “special courts” to proceed but rather extra investigative capacities and a judiciary that can try those who are indicted. “The adjective ‘transitional’ refers to the time in history when it takes place, not to the instruments it uses”.

With this in mind, Europeans can do three things to support transitional justice in Libya:

(1) Step up the assistance to the Libyan judiciary and also address the security concerns of those who operate within it: judges and lawyers as well as witnesses and victims.

To this end, European expertise on witness protection programmes and security details for members of the judiciary should be transferred to Libyans.

(2) Provide investigative capacity and, where needed, funding for the Truth Finding Commission. Encourage and facilitate outreach initiatives to involve and inform the population about its activities and findings.

(3) Strengthen watchdogs, intermediate bodies, and mediators alike, particularly if coming from Libyan civil society. This will create better prospects for fewer abuses and violence.

Ultimately, the losers of the revolution and the civil war cannot and should not be excluded from the new Libya through instruments like the PIL or the laws on veterans and wounded that apply only to those who fought on the right side.

While these decisions rest mainly with Libyans, Europeans (particularly post-conflict transition member states) should be doing more to make the case that postconflict transitions must be inclusive if they are to be successful.

Likewise, recent laws that go against freedom of speech and freedom of the press should not go unnoticed. In this case, moral suasion should go hand-in-hand with the strengthening and protection of watchdogs and pluralism.

In regards to protection, women’s organisations need particular help to overcome not just security problems but also stereotypes and lack of expertise.

Libyan society has been isolated for four decades and a programme of fellowship for women leaders to spend some time in women’s organisations or media outlets in Europe would help it re-join international society.

The media is another crucial element, and Europeans should work not only on news programmes but also on entertainment (television shows, fiction) to foster both the growth of an important economic sector and also to encourage the production of content that promotes tolerance and inclusivity.

A TV series, especially like those shown during Ramadan, could do more to shape public opinion than a news programme. Support for independent productions and training or exchange programmes for scriptwriters would be crucial in this sense and could build on similar European programmes for the cinema industry in the Mediterranean.

Moreover, Europeans should support the professionalisation of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), not just through training but also through funding (and to this end, the work of the EED will be crucial) and by creating new public spaces.

For example, the idea of civil society “incubators” currently carried out by the EU delegation in Libya should be expanded to include buildings where organisations can have their offices and meeting rooms, create formal and informal networks, access the media, share services, and enjoy security.

Given the complex EU funding and reporting system, assistance to civil society groups as they draft projects and implement them should be part of the package.


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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