Interview by: Luigi Cascone
Translation by: Chris Mckee
Mrs Malika Benarab-Attou is a member of the Delegation for relations with the Magreb countries and the Arab Magreb Union. A member of the Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament, she is also the coordinator for the Greens/European Free Alliance group.
One of the striking things about the Libyan crisis, and the recent uprisings in the Arab world in general, seems to be the complete inability of Europe to respond to the issues at hand. Just like in Bosnia and Kosovo, the European Union has been incapable of having an effective human rights policy, even when these violations are carried out just outside its doorstep. How do you explain this?
Whenever we analyse the EU’s relations with the countries of the Mediterranean and North Africa, a number of historical and strategic elements must be considered. The history of colonialism, particularly for France, is a key factor in the North African equation. Much like the current period, this history is characterised by the prevalence of economic interests, specifically those related to the exploitation and distribution of energy sources derived from oil. Therefore this ‘strategic-economic’ aspect makes it difficult to compare the events in Kosovo and Yugoslavia in the 1990s with events in the Arab world today.
The UN has approved a resolution to establish a no-fly zone. Firstly do you approve of this, and in your opinion, why has the international community waited so long before condemning the atrocities currently taking place in Libya?
It’s clear that the delay with which the international community has responded to these dramatic events is largely due to the trauma that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused the Western coalition. Europe is simply afraid of getting bogged-down in another military operation. However, I must admit to being a little worried by the resolution passed by the UN Security Council. Of course, action must be taken to stop the atrocities currently being perpetrated by Colonel Gaddafi, but I’m not sure that this represents the best course of action.
The European Parliament has recognised the National Transition Committee before all the national governments, a much needed measure necessary to help destabilise Gadaffi. The EU has implemented the measures outlined by the UN resolution of 1970, incorporating a weapons embargo, travel restrictions, and freezing the assets of the Gadaffi family (the EU has went even further than the measures outlined by the resolution). The EU can also resort to a number of other methods to stop men such as Gadaffi, if only on a financial and commercial level by cutting off the cash-flows that finance the main mercenaries responsible for the most deplorable crimes. Tripoli can simply not afford to ignore the effect of these measures.
The situation is extremely volatile, and any error or miscalculation could alter the delicate dynamics within the region. The thousands of victims claimed by the civil war in the 1990s in Algeria, which shares a common border with Libya, reminds us just how quickly an internal conflict can quickly degenerate into a bloody war.
The Libyan rebel forces have repeatedly asked for military aid from the European Union in order to stand a chance against the airforce of the Libyan government. The Arab League has also requested a no-fly zone, and thousands have already died. In such desperate times, what can be done to so that a policy of pacificism is not confused with one of indifference?
As I have said, it is imperative that we stop the violence inflicted on the Libyan people by Gadaffi and the need for humanitarian action is undeniable. However, at the same time, we must consider the importance of the role played by petrol in the framework of a Western intervention in Libya.
The European Parliament has adopted a resolution that offers both strong support to the Libyan people, and at the same time, a clear desire not to intrude. In politics, it is often difficult to distinguish between the two, but we believe that we must develop a strategy capable of supporting the legitimate fight for human rights by the Libyan people, without entailing any sort of intervention in a neo-colonial sense.
How well do you feel the EU has responded to these events? What possibilities can you envisage in terms of a Common Foreign Policy for the EU?
While the revolutionary movements in North Africa have shown that a Common Foreign Policy for the EU does not yet exist, they have however reminded us of the necessity of having such a policy in order to help the EU act and become a genuine force for change. The European External Action Service EEAS) as introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon, must be implemented as soon as possible. Finally, Member States must also refrain from taking up individual positions over these events, as was the case in Libya.
Even more generally, it is important that all the European countries reconsider their policy towards the countries of the Mediterranean, with whom we share common roots and a common culture. And if we wish to continue to play an important role in the region, we must establish a policy of cooperation that is fully transparent, particularly in relation to migration policy. For this, a deconstruction of the political approach that portrays immigrants as invaders and criminals is absolutely necessary. Our border policy must be re-evaluated to help guarantee a genuine partnership between all the countries that are linked together by the vast waters of the Mediterranean.
This movement, that some commentators have compared to a springtime for the Arab people, has become a beacon of hope for thousands of people living under oppression and persecution. The removal of Ben-Ali by a population that voiced its democratic aspirations as one has catalysed a process that will change the political make-up of the Middle-East. The role of the European Union in this delicate period is to support this quest for freedom, by firstly helping these people throughout the period of democratic transition, and by remaining vigilant to the risks of new authoritarian regimes emerging to take the place of those that were forced out with such difficulty a few weeks ago.
We are currently living in historic times, and Europe can no longer limit its intervention to bombardments and the closure of its borders.