Punic Panic


In a recent article, News from Leptis Magna, I reported on the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi’s demand for 5 billion Euros per annum from Brussels in return for helping to stem the flow of illegal African migrants entering Europe via Libya’s porous southern border. I wrote then,

Although the amount demanded by Gaddafi is preposterous, the concept cannot be ruled out.

On 6 October, it was announced that an agreement had, indeed, been reached between Brussels and Tripoli, whereby Libya will receive 60 million Euros over three years in return for “protection for migrants.”

That’s right -- “protection for, not from, migrants.”  The Border Management Agreement was agreed to by the EU’s enlargement and home affairs commissioners (the Czech ex-communist Stefan Fuele and the Swedish Liberal Cecilia Malmstrom) after a two day trip to Libya.

As one might have expected from such representatives (Fuele is an ardent advocate of Turkish EU membership, while Malmstrom can’t wait for Sweden to lose her own currency) rather than discouraging migrants, the agreement

is expected to create legal guarantees for migrants and asylum seekers in return for EU aid and advice.

In an apparent reference to Libya’s expulsion of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees office last June, after its repeated criticisms of Libya’s ungentle methods, a spokesman for the European Commission noted,

Until now, the Libyan authorities have never wanted to co-operate...on protection of asylum seekers.

But now, mirabile dictu, everything has changed -- overnight the Libyans have been converted to Malmström’s noble aspirations

to put the protection of fundamental rights of all people involved in migratory and asylum flows at the centre of our efforts in the EU relationship with Libya.

Amongst the agreement’s key features are these items:

Enhancing the capacities of Libyan authorities, Libyan NGOs and international organisations, to properly launch and implement search and rescue operations aimed at saving lives of migrants in the desert or on high seas and to provide them with the necessary humanitarian assistance.

Providing decent treatment, reception and assistance -- in line with international standards -- to irregular migrants intercepted or readmitted or to be returned by Libyan authorities, or stranded in Libya.

The BBC presented the agreement as a diplomatic victory for the EU by emphasizing that Tripoli was “offered only a fraction of the aid requested.” (The use of the word “requested” in that sentence is masterful.) And indeed behind the froth of the agreement there are probably pragmatic considerations to do with gaining preferential access to Libya’s oil and gas reserves. Yet it is difficult to see what concrete advantages Europe has obtained.

Not only are we giving 60 million Euros to one of Africa’s richest countries during a time of recession -- but EU “aid and advice” will actually have the effect of extending European human rights standards southwards. The knowledge that Libyan procedures may now be overseen by European officials or at least informed by European sensibilities will, if anything, encourage migrants who might have been deterred by stories about the treatment they were likely to receive from Libyan soldiers or police.

Worst of all, this agreement signals yet again to the North-facing world that we Europeans are so afraid to defend our own interests that we will cut disadvantageous deals with volatile and eccentric tyrants, who will cooperate only as long as ever-larger stipends keep getting paid.

It may sound fanciful to draw parallels with the late Roman Empire, when corrupt emperors entrusted aspects of frontier security to mercenaries (incidentally, one of Gaddafi’s sons is named Hannibal) -- but there is nevertheless a conceptual connection. The tough truth is that if we are really in earnest about slowing the ever-inwards immigration flow, at some stage we will need to take responsibility for our own salvation.