EU seeks to reduce Turkey’s role in Libya

EU seeks to reduce Turkey’s role in Libya

The conference in Berlin has failed to guarantee a permanent ceasefire because of General Khalifa Haftar’s reluctance in laying down arms at a moment when he was feeling strong against Prime Minister Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj’s Government National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. As a matter of fact, Haftar’s blocking of the oil shipment from Libyan ports just days before the conference made his intentions clear.

Still, the conference has paved the way for a groundwork on which further efforts could be built to prevent the country from disintegration. It has set a road map for a political solution to the Libyan question should Haftar agree to cease its military campaign and dismantle the militia groups fighting for him.

However, the priority of the conference was to convince the countries to stop their military involvement in the conflict and withdraw all the military equipment they had deployed. This concerns particularly Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and partially Turkey as well as Russia. All these countries have expressed their commitment to abiding by the conference conclusions in Berlin.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, in an interview with private broadcaster NTV on Jan. 21, informed that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assured the conference participants that Turkey will act in line with the Berlin conference results. Erdoğan told the media that Turkey has dispatched a limited number of troops to Tripoli only for training and consultation purposes, implying that it won’t accelerate its military presence in this country.

In addition to this, the core of Turkey’s post-Berlin messages was based on the assumption that Turkey has become a key actor in Libya and will continue to be so. This message corresponds to the EU’s attempts to come to the forefront by reducing Turkey’s influence by shifting the center of gravity from Ankara to Brussels and New York.

Firstly, despite disagreements between key European nations, the conference allowed the EU to take more responsibility over Libya as it is the one that faces security and migration problems stemming from the North African country.

European Council President Charles Michel and the new foreign and security high representative, Josep Borrell, have shown that Brussels will give special importance to Libya with plans to hold a special summit on the issue in March. There are also discussions on the deployment of a U.N. force to Libya to monitor the ceasefire if the U.N. Security Council could agree on an observation mission in Libya.

Secondly, the U.N. Security Council will also increase its responsibility and visibility in the coming period.

Thirdly, the EU will likely play a much more balanced role between Haftar and Sarraj so that Ankara’s influence on the latter would fade away in the course of time. For Turkey, two things are important: First, the protection of the Tripoli government. The survival of Sarraj as the head of the GNA will be vital for Ankara’s regional interests. It does not plan to abandon Libya as it wants to deepen economic, energy and trade ties with the oil-rich country.

Turkey’s second priority is to keep two memoranda of understandings signed with the Tripoli government on the demarcation of the maritime jurisdiction zones in eastern Mediterranean and security-military cooperation valid and in effect.

In this context, Turkey and Europeans should better avoid a diplomatic wrist wrestling on Libya. They should find a way to cooperate for the same objective of reducing tension and violence so that two warring sides could engage in genuine talks.

So far, signals coming from Haftar do not promise a genuine start. If the EU feels itself strong enough and ready to play the leading role for peace in Libya, it should do so by persuading Haftar into a permanent ceasefire and removal of oil blockade.