Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in the German Bundestag on the motion tabled by the Federal Government on the continued participation of German armed forces in the EU-led operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI

22.03.2024 - Speech

Crises dominate the front pages of our newspapers: the unspeakable suffering in the Middle East, which was the topic of an intense discussion here yesterday; Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

In view of this terrible violence, there is a risk that other crises, be they in Myanmar, the Sudan or Libya, will disappear from public awareness.

I know that here, too ‒ in part because of budget constraints ‒ the question is repeatedly raised of why, on top of everything else, we should also work to ensure that the arms embargo on Libya is upheld, as laid down in the current mandate on EU Operation IRINI.

But allow me to state clearly that what happens in Libya, which, by the way, is a mere 350 kilometres from the European coast, cannot be a matter of indifference to us because, as you know, Libya is a gateway to the Sahel, where non-elected military governments, with the help of external forces, have shown particularly brutality in the fight against terrorism in recent years. We see how Russia is trying to exploit Libya as a hub for its influence in Africa.

We are talking here about a country that has been in turmoil for over a decade; a country that is profoundly divided; a country where the ceasefire agreed four years ago may well be holding, but where people have been waiting for more than ten years for the chance to determine their own fate in elections; a country where no institutions have yet been recognised by all Libyans and where the status quo is extremely fragile as a result.

Germany has worked hard via the Berlin Process to create long-term peace prospects for Libya, for example, to enable the leaders from East and West to meet in the framework of the Security Working Group and to create enough trust via joint training of their units so that the ceasefire remains under control at the contact line.

However, we also know that none of these political endeavours are much use if even more arms reach Libya. For this reason ‒ and not because we think this mission can solve all the problems ‒ the German Bundestag supported Operation IRINI in 2020. The operation was then set up in the European context.

Since the start of the operation, over 13,500 vessels have been contacted by radio call. On the basis of the information received, but only where there were grounds for suspicion, over 600 friendly approaches were then carried out, that is, merchant vessels were visited with the consent of the captain. In particularly suspicious cases, 27 boardings and inspections were conducted.

This does not mean ‒ as already mentioned during yesterday’s debate ‒ that each ship is inspected. Nor does every inspection lead to the discovery of illegal weapons ‒ that’s not the point. The main aim is to deter other smugglers and their state clients by being present in the region.

I would like to ask all those who think the operation serves no purpose to think about what would happen if it were to end. Would more vessels be inspected if we didn’t do it? No, quite the opposite. And of course, our own security authorities take the same approach. Our police and customs also conduct random checks. And we don’t say we should stop that.

At the same time, IRINI is the only multilateral actor that has an executive mandate to enforce the United Nations’ arms embargo against Libya. In other words, this presence on behalf of the United Nations creates security.

I was present during yesterday’s debate on Operation Sea Guardian and would therefore like to address it. Some Members of the Bundestag rightfully said that we have to see the mission in the context of the geopolitical situation. I would like to firmly underline that point of view. We cannot see the mission we are discussing today separately from Sea Guardian or other missions such as EUNAVFOR ASPIDES, as we are in a geopolitical situation in which we need to think of the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea together. Against this backdrop, EUNAVFOR ASPIDES ensures presence in the Red Sea. For its part, IRINI increases our European presence at our southern flank in the Mediterranean.

Members of the Bundestag rightfully said yesterday that we need IRINI and Sea Guardian to be joined up better, particularly at this geopolitical time, so that we have better situational awareness on which vessels are sailing in the Mediterranean and what dangers we face. After all, we can only respond to threats if we are aware of our surroundings. Here, too, more information means greater security.

We are conducting these talks intensively. I hear a few voices here now saying that we have been calling for this for a long time. Perhaps the CDU would like to answer that when I have finished. But you know that it is not enough to demand things in politics. What we really need to do is to convince our partners. As we are talking about an EU and a NATO mission, with contributions from different countries that sometimes have heated discussions on the region, we need agreement from everyone. And that is exactly what we are working hard to achieve. We would be happy if everyone joined forces on this. In this spirit, I will vote “yes” to this mandate here today in the first reading and in the final vote.


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