Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to the German Bundestag on extending Germany’s participation in the European Union-led naval force EUNAVFOR MED IRINI

24.03.2021 - Speech

One year into the pandemic, most countries are not better off than they were before the virus emerged. One fortunate exception to this rule is, unexpectedly, Libya. One year ago, the country was still in the midst of a civil war. Many had given up all hope of peace, and thought that the Berlin Process had already run its course.

However, I feel we can now say, with all the necessary caveats, that Libya has recently taken some formidable steps towards peace. Last October, the parties to the conflict agreed on a ceasefire and began to implement confidence-building measures. Shortly thereafter, the oil blockade was lifted. At the end of the year, the parties agreed on a roadmap for political transition, including free elections, which are due to take place this December. Two weeks ago, the Libyan House of Representatives endorsed the new interim Government of National Unity, which has already begun its work.

All of this, my honoured colleagues, is the result of difficult compromises, and of dogged diplomacy on the part of the United Nations, Europe, and not least Germany. Distinguished colleagues, the point of reference for all diplomatic progress, including all the setbacks there have been, is and remains the Berlin Conference on Libya in early 2020. It was here in Berlin that all states involved in Libya pledged for the first time to support intra-Libyan reconciliation and to respect the UN arms embargo. This paved the way for further progress, including the most recent steps.

At the same time, it is clear that the path to lasting peace and the reunification of Libya is still very long.

The most important task of the new interim government is to organise nationwide elections in December as agreed. The people also expect rapid progress to be made on improving basic services, reducing corruption and restoring the rule of law. I have already assured the new Prime Minister Abdelhamid AlDabaiba of Germany and the European Union’s support in tackling these Herculean tasks. I am not the only person in the EU or in the United Nations to do that.

If genuine reconciliation is to be achieved in Libya it is also essential that all foreign combatants leave the country as agreed. This is something we too – not just us, but us primarily – have been making very plain to Turkey, Russia and other states that have recently supported one of the two parties directly or through mercenaries. Of course, we all know – let us be under no illusions – that arms, munitions and fighters continue to enter Libya. Progress has been made recently on this front too, but by no means as much as we want to see given what was agreed at the Conference in Berlin.

It is not only the enhanced diplomacy or political pressure on the part of individual countries and the international community that has brought about this progress. The European Union’s Operation Irini has also contributed greatly.

Thanks to Operation Irini, arms smugglers now have cause to fear being caught red-handed in their illegal dealings. In the past year, the mission’s vessels and aeroplanes have been deployed to check ships’ particulars in over 2300 instances and have boarded vessels with the captain’s permission in almost 100 instances for the purpose of conducting inspections. The Operation also monitored suspicious activity on land, for example by watching 25 airports and the associated air traffic movements.

Actions such as these, ladies and gentlemen, unnerve arms smugglers and uncover the state actors behind them. That is why Operation Irini has been called a vital pillar of the arms embargo by former UN Special Representative for Libya Stephanie Williams, for example.

But it is not only through Operation Irini that we are supporting the people in Libya who so urgently need our help – the tens of thousands of refugees, migrants and the Libyan civilian population. Through the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Germany has made available over 45 million euro for the protection of refugees in recent years. This has for example enabled the UN to evacuate more than 5500 particularly vulnerable people from Libya since late 2017. Through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, Germany has provided 121 million euro to the International Organization for Migration. These funds are used to support the voluntary return of migrants and measures in Libya itself. And as part of the efforts to contain COVID‑19, the German Government gave the Libyan healthcare system almost 10 million euro in additional funding last year. By the end of May, the country will receive 300,000 doses of vaccine via Covax.

Ladies and gentlemen, Libya’s example shows that diplomacy may at times be arduous, it may be accompanied by many setbacks, but it can still work. We will continue to build on the successes of the Berlin Process in the months to come. Operation Irini is a key component in these efforts.

In addition, Operation Irini is a beacon of European unity. It represents a sovereign Europe that is playing its part in fostering peace and stability in our neighbourhood. And it can help ensure that next year, too, we can look back and see that Libya is doing better than it was twelve months previously. That is why I ask you to support our motion.

Thank you.


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