As Paris sees the first conference on the new Libya, Europe needs to tread carefully on how it deals with new regime, and reflect at how it supported the previous one.
It is fair to say Europe got it right over Libya, at least at the start. Back when Gaddafi’s forces were bombarding Benghazi, it was Britain and France in that led the calls for military intervention, which saved thousands of people in the city. Now European leaders have some tough challenges in Libya, and more than a little soul searching about how they cultivated and strengthened the Gaddafi regime before the civil war.
After the initial flurry of activity, and as military control passed from UK/French to NATO, policymakers in the EU have fallen back. After a while, the EU agreed to the freezing of Gaddafi owned assets in member states and then unfreezing them for the rebel National Transitional Council (aka NTC). Now as the dust is starting to settle, Europe needs to be very careful in how it acts, to avoid allegations of cashing in.
Libya is a major oil exporting country, and is the primary supplier to its former colonial master Italy. Even before major fighting stopped, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced a deal between the NTC and ENI, a major oil company. This deal guarantees access to diesel and oil without prior payment and is a very obvious ploy to guarantee new Italian contracts. French President Nicolas Sarkozy spearheaded the intervention and is now desperate to get French business involved in reconstructing the infrastructure he helped (necessarily) destroy.
September 1 sees the first major conference on post-Gaddafi Libya. As the NTC accesses foreign aid and unfrozen funds, the conference will be a fire sale of major development contracts in Libya. This isn’t in itself wrong, as the key to stop Tripoli becoming Baghdad depends on the quick restoration of utilities and infrastructure. However business and government needs to be responsible, with none of the overpricing and unnecessary projects that are common in Afghanistan.
With this in mind, European leaders need to be wary about being cosy with the NTC. Gaddafi’s location is unknown, but there are rumours he is in Algeria and Zimbabwe, countries with huge colonial chips on their shoulders. With its collective expertise, capital and proximity to Libya, Europe has a key role in rebuilding Libya, but unless it can learn from the past, Europe’s position in Africa will be massively undermined.
As Europe condemns Gaddafi in the new Libya, politicians should also reflect on how they supported and cultivated the regime over the years. In 2004 British Prime Minister Tony Blair famously met Gaddafi, announcing billions of pounds worth of BP oil contracts in return for Gaddafi pretending to reject Islamism (his recent call for jihad undermines this) and support for the ‘war on terror’. After this, European countries lined up to restore diplomatic relations and sell to the Libyan government, resulting in billions going to the regime. As the regime crumbled, such contracts came to light, such as French company Amesys, which supplied Gaddafi with email and social media surveillance technology. Data captured by Amesys was used to hunt down ‘dissidents’. Furthermore, many weapons seized from Gaddafi’s army have been new Belgian weapons.
Politicians have also conveniently forgotten how Gaddafi sponsored terrorism. He blew up a nightclub in Berlin, killing 3 and injuring 230 and bought down an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland killing 270. Other confirmed reports show Libya supporting the IRA, Red Brigade and (bizarrely considering his anti-Islam stance) Milosevic’s government in Serbia. His final body count in Europe will never be known (let alone in his own country), but if European leaders are to be believed, he is a suitable person to do business with. European leaders have been two faced and short-termist on Libya for years. A quick online search will find grand pictures Gaddafi meeting Vladimir Putin, Berlusconi, Zapatero and the G8, all in pursuit of petro-dollars and arms deals.
As the conference gets underway this week, one can hope that delegates will lay out a framework for working responsibly and with transparency in the new Libya, but don’t hold out for it. Looking at how Europe cosied up to Gaddafi and the way companies are already out to snag new business, this looks unlikely.