Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in the German Bundestag on the Government motion on the involvement of German armed forces in the EU-led military crisis management operation in the Mediterranean EUNAVFOR MED IRINI

23.04.2020 - Speech

We’re talking about social distancing or physical distancing a lot these days. There’s now also something that we might call reality distancing. By the latter, I mean that a crisis, a war, a conflict – there are far too many of them in the world – doesn’t disappear simply because the spotlight of international attention shifts. On the contrary, the coronavirus pandemic is threatening to turn global trouble spots into particularly dangerous hotspots, in every sense of the word. Even now, when the coronavirus threatens both fighters and civilians alike, the conflict in Libya, for example, continues unabated and makes it more difficult to combat the pandemic, with inestimable humanitarian and political consequences.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you consider – and this is not only true of Libya, but also of Syria and Afghanistan – that there are apparently some people in the world who want to use this crisis to gain military advantage in the conflict in which they are engaged, then we can only say that this is a perverse state of affairs. All those who are trying to use the coronavirus crisis to create military facts on the ground should therefore know that the international community will not be prepared to acknowledge these facts after the crisis.

Ladies and gentlemen, the same holds true for Libya. It must be said in all candour that the expectations we had in view of the Libya Conference in Berlin and the Berlin Process as a whole have not been fulfilled in recent weeks and months. The coronavirus crisis – the virus is spreading at breakneck speed also in Libya – has played its part in this.

Ladies and gentlemen, despite all of these problems that exist and all the things that have, unfortunately, not been implemented, I would nevertheless like to point out – there are many who are wondering whether this is the end of the process; it is not – we have, not by a long stretch, achieved everything that we set out to accomplish, but there are things that have been implemented. And we should mention these once again.

Despite the coronavirus crisis, the International Follow-Up Committee of the Berlin Conference has long since started its work, even though face-to-face meetings are no longer possible in the coronavirus crisis. There was a virtual meeting to this end just at the beginning of this month.

There have also been negotiations between the Libyan parties to the conflict – on a ceasefire, as well as economic and political issues. The committees that we agreed to at the conference have been convened. And even on the ceasefire there is a finalised document, which now only needs to be signed by both sides.

Last but not least, ladies and gentlemen, the individual steps were fleshed out at the meeting of foreign ministers on the fringes of the Munich Security Conference and work on them is continuing.

Nonetheless – and this much must also be said – we have to be careful. If you regularly attend such meetings and speak to people who complain about violations of the arms embargo, but you know full well that they are the ones who are violating it, then at some point you get fed up with all this lip Service.

That’s why it’s important that we now create instruments that are effectively suited to monitoring this arms embargo more effectively. That’s what we’re doing with the mission that we’re discussing and deciding on today.

Ladies and gentlemen, the European Union has in recent weeks agreed to take on a leading role after what were admittedly difficult discussions. The new IRINI mission, which is intended to monitor the arms embargo and detect violations, will serve this purpose. In addition, the mission is intended to combat oil smuggling and also to put an end to the cruel business of human traffickers. This is also the main focus of the efforts to train the Libyan coast guard and Navy.

Fellow Members of this House, as the initiator of the Berlin Process – and this is what we as the Federal Government have been – Germany, too, would do well to participate in this European mission, initially with a reconnaissance aircraft and headquarters staff, but later also with a naval vessel. When we talk about where we can assume responsibility or that we have to assume greater responsibility in the world, then this is an example of how we are doing this, ladies and gentlemen.

This is not only an essential contribution to stability in our immediate neighbourhood, but it is also an important signal of Europe’s unity and ability to act, especially in times like these.

Ladies and gentlemen, in all this, however, we are also keeping an eye on those who are suffering most as a result of the conflict, namely the tens of thousands of refugees and Libya’s civilian population. Through the UNHCR, Germany has therefore made over 40 million euros available for the protection of refugees in recent years. Hundreds of people in particular need of protection – which is sometimes barely even acknowledged in the public eye in these tumultuous times – have found a safe haven in Germany through the mediation of the UNHCR, and 300 more are due to be taken in in the near future. Through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, we are supporting the work of IOM to the tune of over 70 million euros, thereby providing assistance for the voluntary return of migrants and for protection measures in Libya.

Of course, such aid can only, at best, ease the suffering of the people in Libya. That’s why it’s all the more important to work towards a lasting peace, because we know that everything we do there and everything we want to implement in humanitarian terms, and everything we want to contribute to the fight against the virus in Libya – we have made offers of help to that effect – presupposes that the right conditions are created on the ground. And the precondition for this is a ceasefire. We made an important contribution to this with the Libya Conference in Berlin. We still have a great deal of work to do. For the results to be effective now, we must, above all, monitor compliance with the arms embargo. Words must, at long last, be followed by deeds. That is why I ask you to support this Mandate.

Thank you very much.


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