BBC BLOGS - Gavin Hewitt's Europe
« Previous | Main | Next »

Taking on Gaddafi

Gavin Hewitt | 12:29 UK time, Friday, 11 March 2011

There is one thing to know about arrivals at summits in Brussels. Europe's leaders have to surf a line of cameras on the way in. They can ignore them or use the moment as an opportunity to try and influence the agenda.

Watching and listening today you sensed Europe's dilemma. Almost every leader wants Gaddafi to step down.The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe needed to send a united signal that the Libyan leader should go.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (right) with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (centre) and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, 11 Mar 11

There is no dispute here. There is no surprise. The British believe that such a message would be "a valuable thing". It may persuade some senior officials or military commanders in Tripoli to think again. Maybe.

The problem is that Gaddafi is unlikely to be swayed by words. Europe has already played some of its best cards. Sanctions are in place against the Libyan leadership and their assets. They have been extended to the Libyan Investment Authority. Bank accounts in Germany have been frozen.

But Gaddafi is in place and on the offensive. So the question is how can they ratchet up the pressure to remove him?

David Cameron said on arrival that "the countries of Europe should show political will, show ambition, and show unity in being clear that Colonel Gaddafi must go, that his regime is illegitimate".

But the French and British want a no-fly zone - if the conditions arise. Other European leaders are much more cautious.

Listen to the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. "For me every discussion about military intervention is more for the UN Security Council, for the Arab League, for Nato, to discuss and is not a responsibility for the European Union."

The Germans too are wary of the military option.

What many of the leaders would prefer is to concentrate on humanitarian assistance, engaging in dialogue with emerging leaders, backing democratic reform and opening up markets.

That is the comfort zone of soft power. It is unlikely to influence the outcome of the fight in Libya.

President Sarkozy, for one, is frustrated by this. Yesterday he unilaterally recognised the opposition Libyan National Council. It irritated other European leaders. The Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said acidly: "the Europeans would do well to talk about the measures they want to decide on in the meeting, and not the day before."

The French president was unrepentent today and urged others to follow the French lead.

Now Mr Sarkozy may have his domestic audience in mind, but what he is doing is forcing Europe to face up to the need for more dramatic action.

If the will exists there is plenty that can be done. Intelligence could be shared with the rebels. Gaddafi's communications could be jammed. His key military installations could be bombed. Weapons could be funnelled to the opposition. Steps that might tilt the battle.

So far neither in Europe or Washington is there the appetite for this.

What the EU will focus on is how it can bolster the democratic awakening in the Arab world. For the moment its impact on Libya may be limited.


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.