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News analysis: Europe contemplates a pre and post-Gaddafi Libya

By By Rahul Venkit (Xinhua)

10:08, August 26, 2011

BRUSSELS Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- The takeover of Tripoli is almost complete. The symbolic heart of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, the walled compound of Bab al-Aziziya, is now being claimed by rebels.

As events continue to unfold in Libya, Europe will be keeping a close eye on developments across the Mediterranean. After all, the European Union (EU) has played no small part in the northern African country's dramatic revolution.

Brussels-based NATO acted as "the rebel's air force," neutralizing Gaddafi's aerial capabilities, artillery and armour. This paved the path for a decisive rebel advance into Tripoli.

If and when captured, there are calls for Gaddafi to be tried for his alleged crimes in the International Criminal Court, based in Den Hague, Netherlands.

Furthermore, the EU was among the first international bodies to officially recognize Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), even setting up a liaison office in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi back in May.

"We are now planning to open an office in Tripoli as soon as the conditions are right," EU spokesperson Michael Mann told Xinhua, adding that their security experts are already present in the city.

Earlier this week, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton promised to initiate procedures to unlock temporarily suspended Libyan assets in Europe. An estimated 150 billion U.S. dollars worth of Libyan assets are expected to be frozen around the world.

But although the EU has largely displayed a united front through the Libyan revolution, some analysts say the same sense of unity has not been reflected by individual countries.

"There was no unanimity, no agreement between the dominant countries of the EU. Germany refused to participate, and there were big diplomatic conflicts between Germany, Britain and France," Middle-East and North Africa expert Pascal Fenaux told Xinhua.

Germany, for historical reasons, has been reluctant to deploy troops beyond their borders in a war context. However, western allies such as France, Britain and the U.S. were disgruntled by the absence of German military involvement in the efforts to end Gaddafi's 42-year rule.

In March, Germany abstained from voting during a UN Security Council motion to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. It went on to withdraw its warships from a NATO arms embargo operation earlier this year, thus isolating itself as the only EU and NATO member to oppose direct military action in Libya.

However, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his country made contributions through "political means," announcing a loan of 100 million euros (143 million U.S. dollars) to the NTC for "humanitarian and civil assistance."

Britain, on the other hand, has been far more vocal about its involvement in Libya. Over the last couple of months, it has provided crucial logistical advice and training to anti-Gaddafi forces.

When the overthrow of the old regime seemed a mere formality, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was time for Gaddafi "to stop issuing delusional statements and to recognise that control of the country is not going to return."

As a post-Gaddafi Libya slowly begins to emerge after months of civil war, Europe will have to contend with several challenges, foremost among them being filling the political vacuum in Tripoli.

Currently, the NTC seems the most capable candidate for the job and has won the backing of Europe and North America. However, some commentators point out they may not enjoy the same political validity back home.

"Internal political cohesion in Libya is far from obvious. There are social, economic and political constraints the NTC will face," Barah Mikail, senior researcher at Madrid-based think tank FRIDE, told Xinhua.

"However, Europe has no choice but to keep sustaining politically, financially and militarily, the one political organ existing in Libya," he added.

Meanwhile, asked whether the EU would cooperate only with the NTC, Mann told Xinhua, "Although the NTC is a very important body, it is not the only one. The EU will cooperate with all credible opposition groups."

A stable government in Tripoli is vital to the EU not in the least because Libya is one of the principal transit points for African immigrants making their way to Europe. Libya shares land and sea borders with 9 countries, including Spain, Italy, Malta and France.

"Therefore, the EU needs a regime in Libya that can control the flow of migration to help the EU control its own borders," Fenaux said.

Major European oil companies are also preparing to restart their operations in Libya, a country renowned for its high-quality sweet crude oil. Austria's OMV, Britain's BP, France's Total, Italy's Eni and Spain's Repsol YPF all have the technical expertise and production experience that will be needed in Libya as it seeks to repair its damaged oil and gas infrastructure.

"Even though Libya only produces under 2 percent of the world's oil, its proximity means Europe is the biggest consumer of Libyan oil," said Libya expert Aziz Albishari.

"Increased oil production output from Libya is likely to drive down oil prices in the short term," he added.

Libya's future will now be discussed by world leaders in Paris on September 1, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and NTC leader Mahmoud Jibril announced on Wednesday. It was on the same date in 1969 that Gaddafi launched a military coup that swept him into power.

This September, Europe will be hoping for a more enduring, if not permanent, solution. (Oussama Elbaroudi, Vanessa Liberson and Viviane de Laveleye in Brussels contributed to this report.)


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