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.
Support local authorities (with some important precautions)
Foreign support for decentralisation in Libya must be handled with care. Politically, it must not be seen and presented as an alternative to strengthening the central government but rather as a crucial component of institution building, essential for public services and to inject new energy into the nascent Libyan democracy.
The Libyan Ministry of Local Government, though admittedly weak and understaffed, must be the focus of this aspect of capacity building. As a second precautionary measure, Europeans should be careful not to overburden local institutions that still lack capacity and experienced leadership.
Nevertheless, there is a realistic set of policies that can be implemented when working with local councils, especially if the approach is one in which European models are offered insofar as they are deemed relevant and helpful by Libyans. Note the following:
• Select a small number of municipalities for which Europeans could provide advanced technical and political support in co-ordination with the national government.
• Initially work on improving basic service delivery and then slowly encourage the central government to devolve to the best-working municipalities the responsibility over urban planning and service provision for some of the more substantial services, such as housing, transportation, education, and healthcare.
• Training in budget drafting and implementation is as important as oversight and accountability. Empowering civil society, for instance by guaranteeing access to information, is crucial.
• In order to encourage dynamism while guaranteeing national unity, European support to municipalities could work along the lines of the European Social Fund, with projects submitted by municipalities and co-financed by the donor community and the national government through the International Partnership for Libya. This procedure should be first tested in a small number of municipalities in order not to overload the system.
• As part of the effort to encourage accountability, transparency, and democratic oversight, one of the first projects that could be started is the creation of local ombudsmen along the lines of the European experience: either a single one for each municipality or different ones to cover major services.
• Building efficient watchdogs is also key. Specific projects could aim to train local CSOs to monitor embezzlement, abuses, and corruption, along with reporting human rights violations.
Take a comprehensive approach to security
Libya’s insecurity is the symptom of its political problems. A clear decision-making process, an inclusive national dialogue, and reconciliation are all essential elements for a stable country.
State monopoly of force is also essential, but it cannot substitute politics. Sending armed units (whether militias “integrated” in the current army or a fully-fledged national army) to quell unrest or rebellion in another part of the country has proven ineffective especially in a situation where state authority is perceived as neither representative nor legitimate.
Politics in Libya, at least in this initial phase of the transition, should not be a winner takes all sport but a power-sharing exercise. Two elements of security rest mainly on the shoulders of the Libyan political elite, although Europeans can go some way in building external incentives and disincentives for the parties involved.
The first is a negotiated power-sharing agreement among some of the largest armed and political groups with a national outreach, such as political parties (or their equivalents), militias from Zintan and Misrata, minority groups, and the Saiqa force in Benghazi and other brigades.
The objective of the agreement would be how to share power in government, end armed competition, and boost the legitimacy of the central government. While not resulting in the immediate demobilisation of militias, this agreement would aim to lay the ground for that in the medium term.
The second element is to extend the practice of negotiating local security and governance compacts. This is a more granular form of peace-making, led by the central government that addresses with specific agreements the many localised conflicts that pit one city against another or often even one neighbourhood against another.
Europeans could support those NGOs that provide assistance to these negotiations and co-operate with the central government in building incentives for these localised agreements – not just economic aid or trade but also the training of security forces to act as peace-keepers. In both cases, a politically neutral and professional national army is crucial.
Two steps need to be taken by European stakeholders in this sense. As troops for the GPF complete their training, stakeholders must negotiate with the Libyan government for their deployment in focused areas of the country, such as Tripoli and Benghazi.
This would at least ensure that decisionmaking and law-enforcement is free of the threat of militias. Alternatively, the new troops could be deployed to guarantee peace in the areas where localised conflicts have been tamed thanks to negotiations.
In a second step, Europeans should set up, also for the police forces, local and national watchdogs that are integrated with civil society and human rights organisations in order to prevent abuses and human rights violations.
Ensure the accountability of security officials through the judiciary. The strengthening and the protection of the judiciary are essential to ensure both security and the rule of law.
Part of this endeavour is the fight against the criminal-Jihadi networks of the “insecurity belt” which also affects human trafficking and illegal immigration, and are two concerns relevant to Europe.
The absence of government authority in Libya today has created a breeding ground for all kinds of illicit trafficking, including illegal immigration and weapons.
Solving the crisis of legitimacy of political institutions and addressing the wider dimension of security are therefore crucial components in tackling illegal immigration. Three other elements must also be in place.
First, the above-mentioned local compacts on governance and security should especially involve areas in the south (the cities of Kufra and Sebha, for instance), which are the epicentres of this activity. Together, stabilisation and the strengthening of institutions should fundamentally help end this rather informal economy.
Second, part of the exchange today is between smuggled goods on one side and subsidised products on the other: Libyans buy subsidised products in great quantities and exchange them for smuggled goods. Reforming the subsidy sector would therefore also affect trafficking.
Third, Europeans should step up their efforts to stop human rights abuses against asylum seekers and migrants and avoid signing immigration management agreements with Libya until a modicum of human rights standards can be ensured.
Support post-oil economic development
The economic crisis in Libya is a result of the combination of the political crisis and of worsening security as its consequence. With the political and technical support of Europeans,
Libya’s central authorities need to take several crucial decisions on the country’s oil and non-oil sectors. Oil and gas production can resume once political agreements are struck since no significant damage has been made to the infrastructure.
That would also dramatically improve public finances and thus the ability of the central government to rein in local actors.
Simultaneously with the effort to end the blockades, the Libyan government should implement, with the support of its European partners, the following policies: an overhaul of the current management of oil revenues to guarantee transparency; profit-sharing with elected local governments; the use of the LIA sovereign fund to pay for improvements in public services and diversify the Libyan economy.
In fact, Libya needs to develop its economy for the post-oil age. This is in both Libya’s and Europe’s interest. A more diversified economy would likely bring a more diverse business sector that is less dependent on the government: currently, 80 percent of the population is either working directly for the government or for one of the 350 state-owned companies.
Moreover, non-oil sectors would make a greater contribution to the reduction of unemployment, leaving fewer recruits for militias.
Foreign direct investment, which requires transparency, a functioning government, and a much improved security situation, could flow to sectors such as heritage and tourism once the government provides the required law enforcement, particularly with regards to urban planning, transparency, and rule of law.
To this end, cooperation with European state and non-state actors is crucial; expertise, training, education, and management would be very valuable.
Finally, as with most of its neighbours, Libya should be encouraged to reform its subsidies system, which currently helps to perpetuate a vicious circle between subsidies and criminal activities.
Ultimately, Europe has a bigger toolbox at its disposal in Libya than elsewhere in the region. The Libyan transition is not doomed, but its fate rests heavily in Libyan hands.
Libyan decision-makers must find the ability to create an inclusive and effective system and eliminate rewards for spoilers. To do so, though, they will need Europe’s support.
The combined EU member states have more leverage, and more at stake, than any other external actor in promoting Libya’s efforts toward political legitimacy, security, and economic reform.
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.