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Friday, September 02, 2011

The New Battle For Libya

The curtain has been drawn over the Paris conference on Libya. Now that the time for photo-ops and ritual calls for "reconciliation and forgiveness" has passed, another 'battle for Libya' is under way, with all the main countries participating in the military operations elbowing their way towards the front of the queue for profitable energy deals with the new Libyan government.

In this regard, France is undoubtedly the early front runner. Most people in Paris have seen the fall of the Gaddafi regime as 'Sarkozy's victory'. The same people now think that France has the right to claim preferential treatment from Libya's National Transition Council (NTC). French left daily Libération - definitely not Sarko's favourite reading - yesterday suggested that France had started to pursue its chacun pour soi (every man for himself) strategy well before the end of the military operations. The paper published a letter sent by the NTC to the cabinet of the Emir of Qatar in April, explaining that the NTC had committed to granting Paris priority access to 35% of Libya's crude oil in return for France's "full and permanent support."

As usually happens in these kind of situations, the NTC immediately denied the existence of the letter. French Foreign Minister, the seasoned Alain Juppé (see picture), also said that he didn't know about the letter, but then unequivocally added,
"The NTC has said very publicly that, in the reconstruction effort, it would give preferential treatment to those who supported them...That seems quite logical and fair."
In other words, the French have been quick off the mark this time, given that a delegation of French companies will go on an official trade mission to Libya later this month. However, Foreign Secretary William Hague has guaranteed that the UK - which bore most of the military burden together with France - "will not be left behind."

Also, quite significantly, David Cameron told the BBC's Today programme this morning,
"I think there is a big danger today of people in the West taking too much credit for themselves. Frankly, this is a Libyan triumph. This is the Libyan people who have rid themselves of a dictator."
A veiled criticism of Sarkozy?

Let us not forget about Italy, which was - in all fairness - a bit reluctant on waging war on Libya, with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi memorably saying, back in February, that he didn't want to "disturb" his friend Gaddafi. Berlusconi might have his head elsewhere these days, but Italian companies seem very focused on how best to safeguard their privileged position in Libya. Indeed, some might argue that Italian companies' priority access to Libyan oil depended heavily on the personal friendship between Il Cavaliere and the Colonel. However, as Paolo Scaroni, CEO of Italian oil giant ENI, recently made clear to the FT:
"It is not a problem of who is the prime minister, it is about the special relation between the countries, which has lasted for decades. It is in everyone’s interest to maintain it this way...[ENI will] find itself in the usual position of strength, just like in the last 20 years.”
And what about Germany? Well, the Libyan campaign will almost certainly not become one of the most memorable pages in the history of German foreign policy. However, Germany may not have pulled out of the race yet. In fact (hat-tip to Italian journalist Marco Zatterin and his Straneuropa blog), it looks like German EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger is considering proposing that in future all oil and gas agreements reached by EU member states with third countries be rubber-stamped in Brussels (a roundabout way of getting a veto on any preferential deals between Libya and EU member states). One could easily imagine a good deal of lobbying from Berlin behind these plans, although the article notes that Oettinger might eventually backtrack and leave the proposal in a drawer of his desk next Wednesday, not least to avoid exposing the Commission to a barrage of criticisms from other member states.

This is where we are at. The starting gun has just been fired and the situation already looks extremely interesting. Needless to say, this new - more subtle - battle for Libya is set to deal another blow to the 'single voice' of EU foreign policy, just as the military campaign did. However, there's something people in Brussels could actually rejoice over. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Commission President José Manuel Barroso and EU Foreign Minister Baroness Catherine Ashton were all invited to attend the Paris conference - which in itself is an achievement...


Rollo said...

These EU luminaries might as well attend, as they have nothing useful to do. And at least they did not open their mouths, which would have been a disaster.

Ray said...

They will not say anything until they have agreed a script, which is decided behind closed doors and without scrutiny by anyone that has been elected to their position. In other words situation normal.