To sort out the Libyan civil war, the European Union first needs to sort out another vicious, internecine struggle: the one back home.
Politico reports that as the EU faces the first test of its “geopolitical” ambitions, it’s running up against obstacles on the home front.
The bloc’s efforts to bring stability to the North African country are being hampered by internal divisions over how best to deal with migrants and refugees.
Libya, one of the main gateways for migrants crossing into Europe, was until recently one of the places where divisions between EU countries were on full display, with Italy backing the internationally recognized government in Tripoli and France quietly supporting the rebel forces assaulting the capital.
In the weeks since the Berlin conference, EU diplomats have been unable to agree to restore Operation Sophia’s naval capabilities, assenting only to beefed-up air and satellite surveillance.
This time the obstacle is not Rome but Vienna, where the ambitious young Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been echoing some of Salvini’s arguments against the mission.
In a recent interview, Kurz said that naval assets in the Mediterranean have served as a so-called pull factor encouraging migrants to risk the perilous crossing in the belief that it will be safer. The presence of EU vessels would be “a ticket to Europe for thousands of illegal migrants,” Kurz said. Given that changes to Operation Sophia require the unanimous consent of the EU’s national governments, the veto from Vienna has left the naval mission without any naval vessels.
“We’re embroiled in a battle for the future of the EPP,” complained an EU diplomat.
Kurz — a hard-liner on migration — is considered to be a contender for the EPP’s de facto leadership. As the era of Angela Merkel comes to an end, the party is at odds over whether to continue the German chancellor’s relatively soft line on migration. The suspicion of many EU diplomats is that Operation Sophia got caught in this battle.
The struggle over migration also extends beyond the EPP, as national governments continue to disagree about what should be done with migrants who are rescued at sea.
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