Libya

Triploi's Old City. September 2011

Tripoli's Old City. September 4.

The European Union’s diplomatic corps, the External Action Service, has landed in Tripoli – the first step in a move to establish a delegation office there. But now that the EU is on the ground in the Libyan capital, don’t expect a torrent of aid to begin flowing just yet.

A post-Gaddafi Libya, and the Arab Spring, in general, present a big opportunity for the new EAS to demonstrate that it can play a useful role helping to promote development and nurture fledgling democracies in the region. The EAS was envisioned as one of the main levers of the EU’s “soft power” when it was enshrined in the 2009 Lisbon treaty. Yet it has got off to a decidedly rocky start.

The extent of the EAS’s role in Libya remains in question. EU officials say they have been told by Libya’s National Transitional Council that it does not intend to hand over the country’s post-conflict reconstruction to foreign interests, and that it will insist on leading the process itself. 

British defence secretary Liam Fox, left, at June's meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels

Just how much support is Nato providing to rebels in Tripoli hunting for Col Muammer Gaddifi? There seems to be a significant amount of disagreement among alliance officials and leaders of some of its largest members.

This morning, Liam Fox, the British defence secretary, said in an interview with Sky News that Nato reconnaissance assets – presumably spy planes and drones flying over the Libyan capital – were directly aiding the opposition National Transitional Council’s operations.

“I can confirm that Nato is providing intelligence and reconnaissance assets to the NTC to help them track down Col Gaddafi and other remnants of the regime,” Fox said. But that would directly contradict Nato’s claims Tuesday, where a military spokesman vehemently denied any coordination with the opposition. 

Rebel fighters on the streets of the Libyan capital Monday morning

UPDATE: Jonathan Beale, the BBC’s defence correspondent, tweets that British defence secretary Liam Fox told him in an interview UK bombing operations in Libya have been halted.

Despite the stunning events in Libya, a Nato spokeswoman here in Brussels says the alliance is not currently planning any special briefing today on the campaign’s progress. The normal weekly news conference is scheduled for Tuesday. That may change, but for now Nato headquarters is keeping a low profile.

The alliance just released its regular daily update on the basic facts and figures of their Libyan mission, but it reveals little out of the ordinary. It notes that 46 strike sorties were flown yesterday (not out of the normal range), with most targeting facilities in and around Tripoli, including three “command and control facilities” and one “military facility”. It provides no more detail than that.

The alliance has for weeks been calling for a post-Gaddafi peacekeeping plan, but has insisted the United Nations has the lead and will only get involved if asked.

Last night, the alliance’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, issued a statement warning forces loyal to teetering leader Muammer Gaddafi to lay down their arms, saying Nato warplanes were still willing to act to protect Libyan civilians. Rasmussen’s full statement is after the jump. 

As the international community prepares for a gathering of political leaders in Qatar next week to discuss the crisis in Libya, it is worth watching the recent travels to Brussels and other European capitals of Jean Ping, head of the African Union commission. 

Day one of the European Union summit finally broke up after midnight Friday, with leaders finalising the structure of a new eurozone bail-out system that will go into place in 2013 and some tough language on Libya, including the promise to push for more sanctions against Libyan oil and gas companies.

Most everything else in the much-anticipated “grand bargain” to shore up the eurozone was decided before the summit, so the rest of the conclusions on economic and fiscal issues were widely reported and expected.

One thing worth reflecting on, however, is the fact that what was once one of the most contentious proposals to reform the EU’s economic governance – new budget rules that allow the EU to fine wayward member states – was agreed to without much controversy. That may require Brussels elites to reconsider the Hungarian presidency

As we’ve been reporting for the last couple of days, many of the fiscal measures that we once thought had been agreed for the two-day summit are unravelling, thanks in part to Finland’s objections to finalising an increase in the eurozone’s €440bn bail-out fund and Germany’s sudden objection to the structure of the €500bn fund that will replace it in 2013. 

Who is having a good crisis over at the European commission’s Belaymont headquarters?

Probably not Gunther “Apocalypse” Oettinger, the energy commissioner, whose dire remarks about the Japanese nuclear situation were an embarrassing example of publicly pouring fuel on an unstable reactor. Not Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, whose aide told reporters that a no-fly zone over Libya was both impractical and unwise – only to be overruled a short time later by Britain and France.

While it is still early days, the buzz among eurocrats is that one commissioner who has proved effective in these troubled times is Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva

As he entered today’s EU summit, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, made his first public comments about his unexpected plan for  for “defensive” air-strikes against forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, saying they should be used in the event Gaddafi uses chemical weapons or unleashes airpower against unarmed demonstrators.

“The French and the English have said that we are open, if the United Nations wants it, and if the Arab League accepts it, and if the Libyan authorities that we want to be recognised ask for it, to have targeted defensive operations in the sole eventuality that Gaddafi would use chemical weapons or use his warplanes to target non-violent demonstrators,” he told reporters. 

Today’s back-to-back European Union summits in Brussels kick off with a discussion on Libya, and it’s sure to be dominated by Nicolas Sarkozy’s unexpected decision to recognise the opposition Libyan National Council as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people.

Officials at both Nato (where defence ministers are meeting) and the European Union (where European foreign ministers lunched ahead of today’s heads-of-government summit) said Sarkozy’s initiative was not hugely popular; one foreign minister I talked to said it was 26 vs 1 during the EU session. There are widespread concerns about who, exactly, the west is embracing, since intelligence on the opposition’s leadership remails pretty thin. 

Vladimir Putin and 12 of his ministers blew through Brussels Thursday, reiterating many of their long-stated complaints about the European Union’s energy policies, which Russian leaders believe discriminate against Russian energy giant Gazprom.

But Putin’s remarks on Libya may deserve more scrutiny, especially since the UN Security Council will be meeting today to discuss possible sanctions against the regime of Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi. Russia is, of course, one of the five permanent members of the security council.

Russia long proven resistant to US and European efforts to impose sanctions against another regional oil producer – Iran – and could prove so again, if the prime minister’s comments at a press conference with José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, are any indication.