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Situation in Libya and the Mediterranean

Situation in Libya and the Mediterranean

Published on March 14, 2011
Extraordinary European Council – Press conference given by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Brussels, March 11, 2011



THE PRESIDENT – France wanted this European Council meeting to be held so that Europe’s reaction could match the scale of the historic events taking place at this very moment in a number of North African and Gulf countries.

It’s our conviction that this is an historic movement which should be welcomed. Arab peoples too are now demanding democracy, social progress and economic growth. It’s our conviction that this historic movement won’t stop, that it will impact all the countries at a pace which it’s for them to decide, and that Europe – which shares with those countries a geographical area, the Mediterranean – must rise to the occasion. Firstly, because the values being put forward today by the Arab peoples are values the European nations adopted a very long time ago. Secondly, because we’re geographical neighbours and therefore the first to be impacted and affected by the success of these Arab revolutions. And that’s what made France request this European Council meeting.


Independently of this context, the European Council focused first of all on the Libya issue. The decisions we took are as follows: the European Council is unanimous in demanding the departure of Colonel Gaddafi and his henchmen, and it adds that Colonel Gaddafi can under no circumstances be recognized as an interlocutor of the European Council. This is a major point of unanimity: Mr Gaddafi is not an interlocutor for Europe.

The European Council decided – I quote the words from memory – to welcome and encourage the National Transitional Council, based in Benghazi, which it now regards as a political interlocutor. So the first point is that Mr Gaddafi is no longer an interlocutor and must go. The second point is that the National Transitional Council, based in Benghazi, is the political interlocutor for the European Council. Its action is welcomed and encouraged. What will the Council become, and will it evolve? This is for the Libyans to decide, of course, not us. But it was very important, particularly for France, that this National Transitional Council’s status as political interlocutor should be recognized, to avoid a risk of “Somalization” – in other words, a country of which people would say: “the current leader isn’t an interlocutor any more, and there are no longer any interlocutors”. So the political interlocutor is the National Transitional Council. That’s the second decision. (…)

The European Council also expresses its deep concern about the attacks, including air attacks, against non-violent Libyan civilians. In order to protect the civilian population, the European Council – the Council and the Member States – will consider all the necessary options, provided there is a demonstrable need for action, a clear legal basis in the United Nations, and regional support, by which I mean the Arab League. That’s in the European Council text.

The European Council decided, at France’s request, to propose the organization in the coming weeks, very quickly, of a tripartite summit between the Arab League, the African Union and the European Union, to discuss the situation as a whole and particularly the necessary restructuring of the Union for the Mediterranean. (…)

Q. – Have the other European Council countries decided to send diplomatic representation to the National Transitional Council, as France has?

THE PRESIDENT – No. I have to be very clear, because there was lengthy debate. As you well understand, the situation is unstable in a number of countries, particularly Libya. We had to harmonize the positions of 27 people. Nobody believes Mr Gaddafi is an interlocutor any more. Nobody believes we can talk to him any more. And everyone believes the National Transitional Council is a political interlocutor that must be welcomed and encouraged. This means that those who want to recognize it as such [can] – as France has, as the European Parliament has, because I heard the President of the European Parliament, who also paid tribute to France as a pioneering country for having recognized the Libyan opposition. Other countries believe that we must talk politically to the Council, that it’s perfectly necessary, but prefer to wait a little until it has a more stable make-up. (…)


Q. – How was the Franco-British proposal received, for targeted and purely defensive actions in Libya in the event of the use of chemical weapons or Colonel Gaddafi’s air force against civilians?

THE PRESIDENT – I must recall that, even though it’s the part that interests you – and I understand that – the Franco-British proposal contained six points. You’re only talking about one, because the Franco-British proposal consisted of saying that the Transitional Council is a political interlocutor, humanitarian areas are needed, Mr Gaddafi must go and there must be a tripartite summit. That was the whole thing.
On this point, in Europe there aren’t those who favour a military option and those who favour a political option. Everyone’s in favour of a political and diplomatic option. I had occasion myself, at the outset, to express all my reservations about a NATO action and emphasize the full complexity of a no-fly zone over a territory – Libya – which is roughly three times the size of France, and the resources it would require. (…)
But the question raised for a number of countries – including the British and us – is this: what happens if peaceful civilian populations, who are demonstrating peacefully and without violence, become the targets of some of Mr Gaddafi’s planes, in this case MIGs, or helicopters firing on the crowd? And the question Mr Cameron and I asked was: at that point, do we stand back and watch or must we react? That’s why M. Juppé and I have discussed possible, strictly defensive operations aimed at a few military targets, in the event of defenceless civilian populations being massacred in a large-scale military action against them.

We set certain conditions: a United Nations mandate, from the Security Council, the support of partners – we were thinking, of course, of the Arab League and also those Libyan authorities whom we recognize as political interlocutors – and of course large-scale military attacks on unarmed, non-violent, civilian populations. It’s in that context that the question arises. (…)

During my meeting with the authorities of the Libyan National Transitional Council –from now on our political interlocutors – they themselves told me how misguided a foreign intervention would be, and we don’t envisage one at all. But there is a “but”, namely a specific scenario in which systematic attacks were made on civilian populations who were massacred by military means.

Q. – Is there time to pursue the international routes – the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union – or must a decision also be taken at some point by Europe or a particular group of European countries, in your opinion?

THE PRESIDENT – The decision is clear; we need a clear legal basis for intervening; a United Nations mandate is necessary. (…) If this mandate doesn’t exist and there’s regional and Libyan demand, then we’ll see. But you nonetheless understand that the European Council meeting was long-awaited in Libya and is being closely watched by the different Arab peoples. If we’d decided today to rule out all other options, what signal would we have sent? It doesn’t mean we want [them]; it doesn’t mean we hope [for them]. But in the end, Europe is the big neighbour; we share the Mediterranean. The Arab peoples have decided to fight for their freedom and for democracy. Our duty is to respond to that aspiration. Now, of course the process isn’t complete yet. We, the French, are convinced that this process will gradually, one way or another, impact all the States in the region and that this is only the start of a process whose future direction or ending nobody knows. But at least the European Council, through its decisions and by proposing a tripartite summit at France’s request, is behaving as a first-rate regional partner. (…)


Q. – You talk about the democratic transitions under way in the region, including in Tunisia and Egypt. The situation is far from stable. On this point, does Europe’s response strike you as matching the scale of the situation, on the basis of the discussions you were able to have today on the document from the European Commission and the External Action Service?

THE PRESIDENT – To give you a frank answer, I think this is only the start of a process that will commit us to going much further, undeniably, but that also means we wait for, or respect, these Arab revolutions. (…) Now, what’s certain is that we’ll have an opportunity to restructure the Union for the Mediterranean, which is more necessary than ever. To do that, we must talk to people with whom we ourselves can build that relationship. (…) I think it’s also very good news that, with regard to dealing with migration, we’re deciding on humanitarian zones in North Africa to deal with displaced populations and that we’ve decided to hold without delay a meeting of the European Council of Interior Ministers to establish a European immigration policy, [as well as] the decision to meet the interior ministers of North Africa to deal with this together. (…)


Q. – If Mr Gaddafi wins on the ground, what do we do? Won’t we be in an old-style – I was going to say an Iraq-style – situation?

THE PRESIDENT – (…) It’s an outcome we’re not envisaging politically, because he’s no longer an interlocutor for us. And the very purpose of everything we’re doing is to encourage all those Libyans who want democracy and who must be able to rely on unflagging political [and] economic support from Europe. The fact that Mr Gaddafi’s still in place can only be seen as very bad news for all the countries of the region. But – without comparing the situations – I’ve said the same thing about Côte d’Ivoire. From the outset, France fought for the election of President Ouattara to be recognized, validated by the United Nations, because it’s not just about Côte d’Ivoire, it’s about the whole of Africa.
Why hold elections if the president-elect doesn’t become president when you do so? So a revolution’s started there, with people bravely saying: “we want democracy too”. We must act to help them; it would be a disaster if we didn’t. (…)./.

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