by Nathan Gain and Christina Mackenzie
“There is war out there. Nobody can deny it and we cannot continue writing papers. So we have to act.” Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Dutch Minister of Defence was crystal clear during the press conference which followed the 5 February meeting of the 28 defence ministers of the European Union and the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Amsterdam (Netherlands). The aim of the meeting was to try and establish greater cooperation against the threats developing on Europe’s borders. “It is clear that no member state will be able to face the challenge on its own,” Hennis-Plasschaert said. She was hosting the meeting as the Netherlands holds the EU’s revolving six-month presidency until June 2016.
Long considered, wrongly, as a secondary front in the war against Daesh, the security situation in Libya is now at the centre of discussions. Sinking into chaos since 2011 and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has become an increasingly popular destination amongst jihadists unable to get into Syria or Iraq. On 4 February officials from the U.S. administration upped their estimate of the number of jihadists in Libya to nearly 5,000 from 2,000 to 3,000 previously.
“We are all ready”, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affiars and Security Policy, told the media after the meeting. Speaking on behalf of the 28 European member states, the head of European diplomacy said they were “ready to provide all the potential, possible support to a government of national accord, including in the security sector.”
She said Operation Sophia, set up to counter the smuggling and trafficking of migrants in the Mediterranean, “could move to the next phase 3” whenever “the Libyan authorities might find it useful to go into this cooperation” and she added that “we have also started to discuss the possibility of reviewing the mandate of operation Sophia to include some training possibilities for the coast guards, for instance, of Libya.”
She added that the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) could increase its potential “to include training, assistance, institution building, and security sector reform.”
Speaking to the press prior to the meeting, Stoltenberg said: “We are following very closely the developments in Libya. This just underlines the importance of fully supporting the efforts to try to find a political solution to reach a ceasefire and to have an agreement on a unity government in Libya because that would also be an important first step to be able to fight ISIL.”
Libya, Russia, Daesh, migration, etc. These are some of the many issues that have recently shaken the foundations of fortress Europe. These urgent questions will be addressed by Europe with the EU Global Strategy to be presented at the end of June to the European Council. We will come back to this at a later date.