Italy, who only a few days ago strongly rejected talk of sanctions, has apparently backed down with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini saying that the Libyan crisis has reached “a point of no return”. It is “inevitable” that Gaddafi steps down, he added.
The sanctions agreed by EU leaders consist of the following:
- a ban on the supply to Libya of arms, ammunition and "equipment which might be used for internal repression".
- a ban on 26 individuals from entering the EU, including Gaddafi, his closest family and a handful other people associated with the regime.
- a freeze on the assets of Gaddafi, members of his family and ten other individuals.
In other words, following a slow start EU countries are now picking up the pace. The pro-democracy protests in Libya and the subsequent violent crack-downs by Gaddafi, kicked off on 15 February. It took the EU roughly two weeks to reach a common position on some form of concrete measures.
That isn't exactly acting with the speed of lightening, but given the complexity of the situation, it could've taken them a lot longer as well (after all, EU member states are still disagreeing fundamentally on how to deal with Cuba).
What's clear is that the EU institutions themselves - such as the External Action Service - have added very little value to Europe's response to the unrests in North Africa. As ever, what was needed was political will, not institutions.
Now, a common EU policy isn't a goal in itself - a fallacy that EU federalists consistently commit (see Romano Prodi in today's Handelsblatt for an example). What matters is real policies and outcomes. And these sanctions could hurt Gaddafi in a real way if implemented in full, though we shouldn't overestimate their importance either.
Cutting off the links to what quite clearly is a Mugabe-type dictator shouldn't be that controversial (we're not talking intervention after all). A bigger challenge, however, might be around the corner if the violence in the region escalates and there are calls for something more.
A separate, but related, challenge is the growing calls for a common EU policy on immigration and asylum, in the wake of the unrest in North Africa and the potential flow of people from that region. This is an uber-controversial policy area which in the past has split Europe right down the middle.
One challenge down, many to go.