What has the EU been doing to support the Libyan people?

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After six months of conflict, events in Libya reached a decisive moment over the weekend of 20-21 August with the rebels' entry into Tripoli. The European Commission has been preparing intensively for this moment – and for the challenges that lie ahead – since the beginning of the Libyan uprising. Below is an overview of some of the key milestones in the Commission's efforts to support the Libyan people, as well as the broader Southern Mediterranean area, at this time of momentous change.

A decisive humanitarian response

The EU as a whole has contributed over €150 million in humanitarian assistance to the Libyan crisis, with €80 million coming from the Commission itself. Commission-funded humanitarian assistance has supported: the people fleeing Libya; the repatriation from neighbouring countries to their country of origin of over 31,700 third-country nationals who had been working in Libya; assistance to refugees who cannot go back to their home country and Libyans fleeing Libya; evacuating by sea and air an estimated 5,800 Europeans, for which a contribution of €10,574,084 was requested by eight participating states; and financing and pre-positioning of emergency stocks to provide relief aid in Libya. In this context, numerous Commissioners visited Libya and its border regions in March, including Štefan Füle (Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy), Cecilia Malmström (Home Affairs) and Kristalina Georgieva (Humanitarian Aid).

A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity

Ahead of the extraordinary European Council on 11 March, the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy (HRVP) presented on 8 March a Communication on a 'Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean', spelling out what Europe could do to support the changes in its Southern Neighbourhood.

The Commission proposed a partnership based on three pillars: i) targeted support for democratic transformation and institution-building, with a particular focus on human rights, constitutional and judicial reforms and the fight against corruption; ii) a close partnership with the people, with a specific emphasis on support to civil society and more opportunities for people-to-people contacts, especially for the young; and iii) a boost for economic growth, development and job creation, notably through support to Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises. In this context, the Commission said it would refocus the substantial assistance programmes, which currently make €4 billion in grants available to our southern neighbours for the period 2011-13.

A new and ambitious European Neighbourhood Policy

The HRVP, Catherine Ashton, together Štefan Füle, Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, on 25 May launched a new and ambitious European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), confirming the EU’s determined and reinforced engagement with its neighbours. The proposal seeks to strengthen individual and regional relationships between the EU and countries in its neighbourhood through a ‘more funds for more reform’ approach – making more additional funds available, but with more mutual accountability.

On top of the €5.7 billion already allocated for the period 2011-2013, additional funding of €1.24 billion has been transferred from other existing resources, and will now be made available in support of the ENP. In addition, the European Council agreed to the HRVP's proposal to increase EIB (European Investment Bank) lending to the Southern Mediterranean by €1 billion over the same period. The EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) backed her request to extend their operations into the Middle East-North Africa region, starting with Egypt. Their expectation is that annual lending volumes could reach around €2.5 billion a year by 2013.

An EU office in Benghazi

On 22 May, Catherine Ashton opened a new EU office in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, in order to more effectively foster EU assistance, in coordination with Member States and other international organisations. During this visit, the HRVP also met with Mahmoud Jibril, Chair of the Transitional National Council (TNC), which the EU has recognised as a key political interlocutor in Libya.

Dialogue and engagement with the Transitional National Council

President Barroso also met with TNC Chair Mahmoud Jibril on 13 July. As the President said at that time, the Council needed to be seen as a genuine national movement with a clear commitment to national reconciliation and to an inclusive political transition – a transition that we have already begun to mobilise resources to support, in close cooperation with our international partners (the UN, the African Union and the Arab League). And as the President also stressed, while the transition process must be owned by the Libyan people themselves, the EU stands ready to provide its expertise and support when it comes to:

  • The organisation and supervision of free and fair elections
  • The creation of an effective administration and judiciary
  • The development of civil society and free media
  • Security sector reform
  • The design of sound economic policies for growth, development and jobs