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Archives for March 2011

Turkey: The growing power

Gavin Hewitt | 17:32 UK time, Wednesday, 30 March 2011


In the era of awakenings, upheavals and revolutions: watch Turkey.

It has become a hugely ambitious country, bristling with self-belief. In a turbulent Middle East it believes it is the democratic role model. It eyes the role as spokesman for the region as a whole. When disputes need to be settled, it offers itself as the mediator. The State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek summed it up: "Everybody has to see Turkey's power."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his lawmakers at the parliament in Ankara

Over Libya it is the country that the West watches more carefully than any other. For the moment, Turkey is supporting Nato's campaign whilst refraining from joining in any attacks on Gaddafi's ground forces. It is holding itself back, ready to step forward as the indispensable locator when the hour of negotiation approaches.

On the Libyan conflict it has flipped and flopped however. Early on, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced any Western intervention as "absurd". He raised fears of a "second Iraq". Turkish officials seemed to lash out at what they portrayed as an oil grab by the West. They picked a fight with the French interior minister Claude Gueant who unwisely said the French President was leading a "crusade" to stop Gaddafi's barbarism. He didn't mean it of course in the historical sense but Turkish officials pounced on the tongue-slip.

That was then. Now Turkey is committing five or six vessels to police the arms embargo and is running Benghazi airport to co-ordinate humanitarian assistance.

Turkey wanted to disguise its hand, to see which way the battle flowed. Twenty thousand of its citizens work in Libya and it has lucrative contracts there. Commercial self-interest made it cautious.

The u-turn was driven by the realisation that the international community, including the Arab League, was determined that the killing of civilians had to stop.

Turkey had two positions. Firstly, it would not attack Gaddafi's forces directly. Secondly, it was fiercely opposed to a coalition, led by France, setting the agenda.

Its problem with France is simple. President Sarkozy is against Turkey joining the EU as a full member. Ankara feels insulted and it is easy to meet Turkish officials with a mouthful of rage against the French president.

So Turkey wanted the operation run under Nato, where it has a role in decision-making and drafting the rules of engagement. Its position is hard-headed. "We are one of the very few countries that is speaking to both sides," said one official. It waits for that moment when the mediator is summoned on to the field of play.

On the turmoil in the Arab world, Turkey has sold itself as the role-model. Early on it urged Hosni Mubarak to stand down. Many of the Egyptian demonstrators wanted Egypt to be like Turkey; secular yet certain of its Muslim identity but with free elections.

When the killings started in Syria, Prime Minister Erdogan was immediately on the phone. "I have made two calls to President Assad in the last three days and I have sent top intelligence official to Syria. I have called for a reformist approach."

It is all skilfully balanced; on the side of reform but keeping a hand in with the man in power.

Sometimes it seems Turkish officials are everywhere. Such as when the prime minister shows up in Baghdad. It is Turkish goods and companies that so far have conquered Iraq's markets. With the prime minister were 200 businessmen.

President Ahmadinejad of Iran may be isolated, but not with Turkey. Ankara has again positioned itself as the deal-maker. There is also the not-so-small matter of $10 billion in trade with Tehran.

Turkey has also helped shine its credentials in the Middle East with a major row with Israel over the interception of a boat heading for Gaza. Turkish citizens died in the incident.

So Turkey's sphere of influence widens but, even so, there are the problems.

Since 2005 it has been engaged in accession talks with the EU. For the moment they are going nowhere. President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel favour instead of membership "a privileged partnership". Turkey wants none of it and seethes with resentment.

Some - but not all - in the EU are wary. There are 24 million without work in Europe and the appetite for enlargement has dimmed. Not everyone is convinced that a Muslim country should be in the EU. It would be difficult to have Turkey join without its people being consulted.

Turkey knows this and asks the searching question: "Is the EU a Christian Club or is it the address of a community of civilisations? The current picture shows the EU is a Christian Club. This must be overcome." It touches a raw nerve. But plenty in Europe ask whether Turkey would accept becoming a community of civilisations.

You could sense the strains and tensions when recently Prime Minister Erdogan went to Germany, where two million people of Turkish origin live. He caused huge offence when he told an audience in Dusseldorf: "Our children must learn German but they must learn Turkish first." It was an open challenge to the German government which had been insisting that those who live in Germany must speak the language and integrate. The German chancellor opined that multiculturalism had failed because it led to separation.

There is, too, friction over Cyprus, and the disturbing detentions of reporters and writers. It forced the European Commission to warn Turkey over its democratic credibility.

And then there are the doubts as to how committed the ruling party is to secularism. Recently Ayse Sucu, who headed a woman's group, was squeezed out after suggesting women themselves should decide whether to cover their hair.

There is an ongoing struggle within Turkey which will demonstrate its commitment to tolerance. That, more than anything, will determine whether it is indeed a role model.

But Turkey is on a roll. Sometimes - irritated at being rebuffed - it contemplates abandoning its pursuit of EU membership. It survived the economic downturn and its growth is an enviable 5%. It may prefer to go it alone and, like the Ottomans, revel in newfound influence.

But when it comes to Libya, Turkey demands to be listened to. And the West needs Turkey on side.

Europe - catching the future

Gavin Hewitt | 18:21 UK time, Monday, 28 March 2011


In the soft light of early spring, Paris seems contented with its war. The face of the enemy hogs the billboards. Libya's "mad dog", looking stern and distracted, is on the magazine covers and revolves in the tabac windows.

There is a warm tinge of righteousness.

An anti-Gaddafi demonstrator on the Trocadero Square near the Eiffel Tower in Paris (19 March 2011)

Thousands of lives were saved, declares President Sarkozy. The activist intellectual-in-chief Bernard Henri-Levy applauds from his Rive Gauche perch in the Café de Flore.

Some admiringly speak of Sarkozy's "blitzkrieg diplomacy". It has led others to point up the failings of multilateralism: the indecisiveness, the dithering, the inconclusive summits, the inability to act. Even in a continent that witnessed the barbarism of Srebrenica, international bodies allowed Gaddafi's forces to get to the gates of Benghazi.

So history turns. Back in 2008, I remember how Barack Obama's election was saluted as the return to multilateralism and nodding in agreement in the front row was the European elite.

Whilst in Paris I was reminded that catching the zeitgeist is often a fool's game. The Eiffel Tower is a symbol to it. Its muscular pig-iron girders caught the imagination of the futurists.

"We exclaim the whole brilliant style of modern times," declared one of their manifestos. "Cars, airplanes, railways, grandiose steamships". The Eiffel Tower was their great totem. For Severini, Boccioni, Delaunay and others it pointed the way to the future. The machine age would change humanity. Within years, the machines they admired so much would be turning in the service of war.

Many years later, Francis Fukuyama eyed the closing of the Cold War as the "end of history". Within a few years we were living with radical Islam. And yet with the revolutions unfolding in the Middle East his view that the Western Liberal democracy may prove to be "the final form of human government" may still have its time.

I mention all this because in the corridors of Brussels there is often a certain swagger about the future. Last year the President of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso said that "the EU's decades of experience in transnational cooperation makes it an obvious laboratory for globalisation, a champion of global governance".

Certainly among the alumni of the College of Europe - that finishing school for the European political elite - there is a belief that they have caught the wave of the future; that the nation state is withering, that increasingly we live in an inter-dependent world. It is a belief that runs through the work of the EU's founding fathers: De Gasperi, Monnet, Schuman, Spaak, Delors and Spinelli.

Self-evidently there is an extent to which this is true. The environment, nuclear safety, the inter-dependence of economies and markets (to name but a few) demand international co-operation.

And yet at this moment there is reason to pause, to wet the fingers and detect which way the wind blows.

The biggest challenge facing Europe is growth. It is the holy grail. Without it so much else fails. Last week David Cameron described the EU as a "low-growth area". European officials have toiled away coming up with a new plan for growth. A 2020 strategy has evolved out of the Lisbon Strategy and will be lucky to escape the same fate. The earlier document was canned.

There is a wide consensus that the single market needs expanding and of course it needs to be policed but - in the face of global competition - outsiders are urging a bonfire of regulations.

And this takes us to the spirit of the times. Time Magazine's man of the year was Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. He was a shoo-in; he changed the planet. In an allied essay Richard Stengel said of the Facebook phenomenon: "There is an erosion of trust in authority, a decentralizing of power."

However obscure the motives of Julian Assange, Wikileaks appeals to a similar desire for openness and transparency.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (June 2010)

The zeitgeist seems to be the empowerment of the individual.

There are two questions for Europe. One is obvious and easy - where are the Zuckerbergs? The second is more fundamental. Is Europe still too tied to regulation?

Last week the EU unveiled Euro Plus Pact; a plan to more closely integrate European economies in the eurozone. Other nations are lining up to join. Barroso is optimistic "the economic and monetary union will finally walk on its two legs instead of limping along".

That, too, raises questions. Does centralising control of tax and spending belong in the future or to the past? Critics say it smacks of the dead-hand of central planning.

It is too early to discern the message of the Middle East uprisings. The motives are mixed: freedom, democracy, work, anger at corruption, the desire to live a normal life. Certainly the rise of populist parties in Europe testifies to the resentment with elites.

So much of this is like looking through a glass darkly. Yet for Europe the challenge remains - how to catch the future? Is it on the side of the vast multi-national organisations or does it lie with regulation-lite administrations where power is handed back to individuals and communities?

The shadow over Europe

Gavin Hewitt | 15:58 UK time, Friday, 25 March 2011


In the soft spring sunshine it was possible to believe the Brussels briefings that Europe was finally getting on top of the crisis in the eurozone. But a shadow fell across the summit.

It was not just the fact that Portugal was edging ever closer to needing a bail-out. It was not even that the Portuguese Prime Minister, Jose Socrates, had resigned and that there could be a political vacuum in Lisbon for two months. It was more fundamental than that.

Portugal's parliament had rejected an austerity plan that carried the imprint of the European Central Bank and the European Commission. The country was told that an extra round of spending cuts and tax increases was essential to appease the markets. It was sold as a matter of survival. All the pleadings counted for little. The plan - the fourth austerity package in the space of a year - was thrown out. The people had had enough of belt-tightening. They would be squeezed no more.

Now Portugal's political parties say they'll respect the deficit-cutting targets, but elections lie ahead and the people will deliver their verdict.

All of this reflects a deeper trend. A fault line is developing between Europe's prosperous north and those debt-ridden countries on the periphery.The plates are shifting, creating a divide. The people in the northern countries are increasingly frustrated at having to bankroll the weaker nations. At the same time the people in the Republic of Ireland, Greece, Portugal and elsewhere are increasingly resistant to the austerity imposed on them. There is increasing tension between the bankrollers and the bailed-out.

Now in order to fix the crisis the EU has agreed to increase the lending capacity of the current fund and to set up a permanent bail-out mechanism after 2013. With it comes a "grand bargain" drawn up by Germany. In exchange for being Europe's paymaster Berlin has demanded a say in how other economies are run. So there will be a pact aimed at bringing eurozone countries closer together in areas like tax rates and wage bargaining. Economic co-ordination will have arrived. Sanctions will rein in those inclined to run up deficits.

Whether these measures truly address the cause of the crisis is an interesting question. But even before they are introduced there is potential trouble.

EU leaders at European Council in Brussels, 25 March 11

The historian Niall Ferguson recently described it as a giant "Ponzi scheme" where the burden of supporting weaker nations was placed on the shoulders of an "ever-shrinking number of healthy ones".

On 17 April Finland will hold an election.The party that may end up holding the balance of power is the True Finns. It opposes increasing the size of the EU's bail-out fund and wants the whole deal renegotiated.

A casual glance at today's German papers indicates just how unpopular a larger bail-out fund is with German voters. Bild said "the old promise that we won't pay for others has been broken once again". Several German papers pointed out that topping up the euro rescue fund would now cost 22bn euros (£19bn). That is money up front. Kurt Lauk from the CDU is quoted as saying "Europe is on the threshold of becoming a transfer union."

In response to the collapse of the Portuguese government the German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "A lot depends now on those who represent Portugal making it clear that Portugal feels obliged to stick to the goals" of its deficit-cutting programme.

But say the mood is shifting. Say the ability of weaker states to adopt austerity measures is weakening. What then?

In Ireland - despite a bail-out - the crisis is not yet over. The new government says that the bill to bail out the sickly banks is still growing. It may need a further rescue. Otherwise the threat is there. Investors, including French and German institutions, will have to be burned. There will be further bank stress tests next Thursday. The Irish government is hemmed in. There is growing hostility towards Brussels. The public won't take more austerity.

And even though the bail-outs have bought some breathing space they have not solved the fundamental problem. Greece has had the interest rates of its loans reduced and its repayment period extended, yet the country shows no sign of being able to grow its way out of its debt crisis. Its tax revenues are actually falling. Growth is elusive. Sooner or later Greece will have to face its debt mountain.

Chancellor Merkel offers no relief. "Member states," she said at the summit, "face many years of work to atone for past sins". And that's part of the problem - countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal will be taking the austerity medicine not just for this year, but quite possibly for a generation.

As Charles Grant from the Centre for European Reform observes, "there may be a time when, even if politicians want to do the right thing for the euro, the public will not allow them to do it."

Brussels is often a strange world. There is a Panglossian upbeat tone to much of what is said publicly, whilst economist after economist predicts a restructuring of the debt is coming.

This was supposed to be the summit that delivered the comprehensive package to end the eurozone crisis. It hasn't. Three months of uncertainty lie ahead. The fix is not in. A line has not been drawn. And tensions are rising.

Crises at Europe's door

Gavin Hewitt | 11:45 UK time, Thursday, 24 March 2011


European heads of government are gathering yet again in Brussels. It is the third time this year. But events - those twists of fate - have intervened. The agenda is being set elsewhere.

Leaders are divided over the most important foreign policy crisis in a generation. The EU often appears as a Franco-German club. When they fire together - so the conventional wisdom goes - then the European engine purrs. Over Libya, France and Germany are on different sides of the argument.

There are divisions over which body should take command of the Libyan operation. Nato remains deadlocked, with France and Turkey, in particular, in deep disagreement.

There are lots of voices saying the crisis has exposed any idea of a European foreign policy as hollow and knives are out.

The eurozone crisis has re-emerged, with Portugal heading for a bail-out. The summit that was supposed to deliver the "comprehensive package" to solve the euro crisis once and for all will once again be involved in fire-fighting.

And what about Libya? Just ten days ago the European Council met. The mood was strongly against any kind of military intervention. The words "no-fly zone" did not even make it into the final communique. Ten days later European planes are doing bombing runs over Libya. What happened? In an amazing round of diplomacy France and Britain squeezed a resolution out of the UN.

The split between France and Germany over this operation has not been settled. Part of its origin lies with German politics. There are differences within the governing coalition. Chancellor Merkel has tried to repair the damage by offering extra forces to fly surveillance planes over Afghanistan, so freeing up resources for the Libyan campaign. But it will not be easily forgotten that on such a crucial vote at the UN Germany sided with Russia and China.

The question of which body is in charge of the Libyan operation has not been settled. The Europeans better get used to it. No longer will the United States, or so it appears under President Obama, automatically assume the role of world policeman. Washington wants to step back from commanding this operation, but there are still disagreements.

France is the key here. What Paris fears is that if the Libyan campaign becomes a full Nato operation then all its members - including Turkey - will have a say. France suspects that Ankara might try and restrict operations that are targeting Gaddafi's forces on the ground. So France has proposed the operation is run by Nato but political control is in the hands of a new steering group composed of foreign ministers from Europe, Canada, the United States and various Arab nations.

That formula troubles nations like Italy. It wants this to be a Nato operation pure and simple.

Anti-Gaddafi rebels in Libya, 24 Mar 11

Underlying all of this is tension between France and Turkey over EU membership. President Sarkozy is resisting Turkish membership. Officials from Ankara are so incensed with Sarkozy that in conversations they often refer to him as "that man".

Others are saying this has been a disastrous period for the idea of a common European foreign policy. The Conservative MEP Charles Tannock said it has "not been a good week for EU unity". When EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton appeared before the European Parliament one member told her "your job is superfluous. It's money thrown out of the window."

Giles Merritt, from the Friends of Europe think-tank, said "the union's failure so far to respond adequately to the crisis engulfing the Arab world is sharpening knives in foreign ministries across Europe." He called on Baroness Ashton not to remain a "low-profile operator".

But the reality is that powerful leaders like President Sarkozy have acted on their own instincts. He surprised the rest of Europe by recognising the Libyan opposition. Even whilst he was hosting a summit last Paris which included EU officials, French planes were already over Benghazi. That surprised others.

The story of this crisis is that individual leaders have acted whilst the EU has struggled to find its voice. Some of the tensions may well spill over into the summit.

Then there is the eurozone crisis. This was supposed to be the defining summit; the moment when Europe's leaders emerged with a plan that finally faced down the debt crisis.

The outlines of the deal are clear. The lending capacity of the current fund will be increased. A permanent mechanism will be set up after 2013. And there will be, if you like, a "grand bargain" drawn up by Germany. In exchange for being Europe's paymaster it wanted to have a say in how other economies were run. So there will be a pact to co-ordinate economic policies, for everything from tax rates to wage-bargaining.

For various reasons - including the electoral cycle in certain countries - these new measures won't now be signed off until June. The markets might not be impressed.

And then on the eve of the summit the Portuguese Prime Minister, Jose Socrates, resigned. He was unable to get his fourth package of austerity measures through parliament. Despite the urging of the European Central Bank, MPs in Portugal decided the people had had enough of belt-tightening.

Already Portugal is struggling to finance its needs on the markets. That may soon prove impossible and a bail-out will become inevitable. The trouble is, who will the IMF and the EU negotiate with in the power vacuum in Lisbon?

So once again there is uncertainty. A third bail-out will be deeply damaging for the reputation of the single currency.

It's hard to know at this stage how big a bail-out will be required and from which pot the funds and guarantees would come. If part of the deal involves tapping the EU's emergency fund then Britain will be liable to help under a deal signed by the former Chancellor Alistair Darling. The think-tank Open Europe has calculated that Britain could be on the hook for guarantees of £3bn.

Libya: Who's in charge?

Gavin Hewitt | 11:18 UK time, Tuesday, 22 March 2011


It is rare indeed that the allies in an international military intervention of the scale witnessed in Libya are unsure about who should command the operation.

Initially it was run by the United States and their Africa Command out of Germany. But the Americans have made it clear they don't want the leadership role. President Obama has said they will transfer the command of Operation Odyssey Dawn in a couple of days, but to whom?

Either the operation would be under British/French command or Nato. And there the problems and disputes begin.

The French - certainly initially - were against Nato involvement because Nato's reputation, in their view, was damaged in the Arab world, due to its involvement in Afghanistan. France believed it crucial to draw Arab states into the military operation and in their view Nato didn't help.

Some allies believe France launched the first attacks without fully informing its allies. That has led to tensions.

France and Germany strongly disagree about the operation. Yesterday the German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, said "we calculated the risks and if we see that three days after this intervention began, the Arab League has already criticised this intervention, I think we had good reasons."

The Italians, who are offering seven of their bases to the operation, want Nato to take command. Several other European countries are demanding that the operation be run out of Nato.

Norway says its fighter jets will not participate until a clear command structure is in place.

French Mirage 2000 jets at Corsica base prepared for Libya mission, 21 Mar 11

But there is another problem. Turkey is a member of Nato. It has its own reasons for opposing transferring command and control to Nato. Prime Minister Erdogan said "we do not want Libya to become a second Iraq".

Turkey, with its substantial business interests in Libya, sees itself as a potential negotiator to end the crisis. There is also clearly tension with France. Ankara is wary of France's leadership in the air strikes.Turkish objections are stalling the alliance's participation in the campaign.

Paris believes Turkey has its own agenda in the Middle East, while Ankara is frustrated that France opposes its bid for full EU membership.

Some diplomats believe that France wanted to avoid early involvement of Nato for two reasons. It wanted the freedom of action to "save" Benghazi and it wanted to enlist Arab support without the Nato brand, whilst accepting that Nato would have to become involved later.

Meanwhile a significant number of countries are criticising the scale of the operation. China wants an immediate ceasefire. Russia is critical. African countries like Uganda are firmly against. India is very doubtful.

On the ground it has become more difficult for coalition planes to find Gaddafi's forces as they are in urban areas. So far the opposition forces have not been able to seize the initiative. There are clearly divisions as to whether the Libyan leader is a target. The military in the UK and the US clearly don't think he is. So the question remains as to what the goals of the operation are. Clearly saving civilian lives, but there are limits to how that can be achieved from the air.

The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, probably came closest yesterday to revealing what the strategy is. He said he hopes that Gaddafi's government will break up under pressure.

But the lesson of the first few days of Operation Odyssey Dawn is that time is probably short; that the international community will quickly lose patience with a long campaign.

It doesn't help that there are so many divisions over running the campaign.

UPDATE at 1545 gmt: Nato did agree on Tuesday to begin enforcing a UN arms embargo on Libya, using aircraft and ships in the Mediterranean to "conduct operations to monitor, report and, if needed, interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries".

Nato also pledged to help enforce the no-fly zone - "to bring our contribution, if needed, in a clearly defined manner" to the effort. But it was clear that Nato would not yet be co-ordinating the Libya mission.

Libya: The Knowns and Unknowns

Gavin Hewitt | 10:47 UK time, Monday, 21 March 2011


The Knowns

The Libyan mission has been a victory for the nation state and an energetic leader. That's how it comes across in Paris.

At the summit at the Elysee at the weekend, President Sarkozy beamed and embraced over a dozen heads of government and world leaders. The Palace Guard was in line and the drums rolled for the heads of state. Even opponents of the French president say that he has seized the initiative, forged alliances, and was able to inform his lunch guests that French planes were over Libya.

Political enemies like Dominique de Villepin said "France has, in these circumstances, been true to its ideals".

Mr Sarkozy said France had "decided to assume its role" - implying there was a French moral mission that formed part of its identity.

The start of a military operation often makes for good politics. Callers have been phoning French news stations to say they are proud to be French. The departure of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle from Toulon was "breaking news".

US F16 warplane takes off from the Aviano airbase in Italy

The indispensable Americans: It was the French and the British who had made the diplomatic breakthrough. On the opening night the French were given the lead role, but the heavy punch was delivered by the Americans - they fired the vast majority of the Tomahawk cruise missiles that crippled the Libyan air defence system. They had help from the British, but the American Growlers and B2 Stealth bombers were essential.

The operation, so far, has been under the command of the Americans. It was controlled by the US Africa Command out of Germany. That will change. The Americans are determined not to have the "pre-eminent role". Within days command will be handed over to a joint UK-French team or Nato.

Washington - with an eye to the future - is keen to have the Europeans shoulder as much of the burden as possible. At a moment of international crisis the world now knows that Washington may not, as in the past, assume leadership.

The Arab League: Essential to the whole operation. Only underlined at the weekend when they wobbled after the first salvos.

The role of the Germans: In Europe it is often said that everything rides on the Franco-German alliance. It is the bedrock of the EU. On Libya the two countries came down sharply on different sides of the argument. The German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, found himself insisting that Berlin was not "internationally isolated". But he only underlined the divisions in the EU when he said "many other countries in the EU not only understand our position, not only respect it, but also share it". Germany, the economic superpower of Europe, finds itself debating once again whether it needs to be bolder in international affairs.

Other institutions: The EU has come across as divided, incapable of acting and so has been left on the periphery. This was not a Nato operation, but it may yet come to play a role.

The Unknowns

Already there is confusion over aims. In recent days both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others have said they seek the removal of Gaddafi. David Cameron said there was "no future that includes Gaddafi". Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, took a different line: "this is not about going after Gaddafi himself". That message was reinforced by other American military officials.

But that begs the question. Would the international community be satisfied with the Libyan leader remaining in place as long as civilians were not being attacked?

And if the answer to that is "yes" then would the so-called "coalition of the willing" accept a country that is de-facto partitioned? The Libyan opposition is deeply opposed to this.

Would France, the UK, and the US settle for a stalemate?

What happens when the obvious targets run out? Already one UK Tornado mission has been aborted because of the threat to civilians. Gaddafi's forces are not going to risk being caught again on the open desert highways. They will hunker down in the cities they control.

Admiral Mullen summed it up when he said that the "end game" was very uncertain.

How long will the coalition hold together? There was consternation in various foreign ministries when Arab League head Amr Moussa said: "what has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone". He had, apparently, been misquoted.

But the lesson of history is that civilian casualties are inevitable even with "smart" weapons.

Experience suggests that over time alliances fracture. Short missions work more effectively. So time may be more on Gaddafi's side than the coalition's.

An official said this to me at the weekend. Our big hope is that the air raids will encourage units and officials to desert Gaddafi's side. When they see they cannot win the regime will weaken from the inside and that might open the way for a deal with the opposition. Yesterday there were signs of the insurgents regrouping, but can they regain the initiative?

Just a few of the unknowns.

Libya and Sarkozy's moment

Gavin Hewitt | 10:00 UK time, Friday, 18 March 2011


If sometime in the future the Libyan opposition win and come to power in Tripoli, they might consider a statue to the French president. There could be a Sarkozy Square or even a boulevard named after him.

There is no doubt that the French leader, with his renowned energy, was the key player in driving through a UN resolution that now allows "all necessary measures" to be used to protect civilians in Libya. He was undeterred by a divided EU and a G8 palpably unenthusiastic about any military action.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

It's not that he acted alone. David Cameron was an ally, working the phones to get the votes in New York. But as Francois Baroin, Sarkozy's spokesman said, it was "the French who led the calls for action". The French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe travelled to New York to lobby the UN ambassadors.

Go back a week ago. The EU was hopelessly split. The Germans were implacably opposed to intervening. To the obvious irritation of the French president, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and her team were seen to be briefing against a no-fly zone which they said could not be implemented for weeks. The European heads of government could not even stomach using the words "no fly zone" in a final communique. Likewise a meeting of the G8 in Paris firmly rejected using force.

So what happened? Firstly, the decision by the Arab League to back a no-fly zone was a game changer. It gave the West crucial political cover.

Secondly, it was the rapid counter-offensive by Gaddafi's forces that focused minds, particularly in Washington. The Obama administration had hesitated, reluctant to use its power in another Arab nation. But if Gaddafi won it would have been asked in Washington: "Who lost Libya?" And around the world, Obama would have been seen to have failed the Arab spring.

The French and the British worked on getting key countries like China to abstain, while ensuring other Arab nations like Qatar and the UAE would join any action.

There are some observations that can be made. Without US leadership there is drift. The EU is ill-suited for taking decisive action. To some people it has failed to learn the lessons of the Balkans. It seeks a stronger voice on the world stage but fails to understand the importance of hard power.

We had a situation where some Europeans were frustrated with Washington. Some in the American capital were bemoaning the fact that all this was happening in Europe's back yard - and where was Europe? "It's high time that Europeans stopped exporting their own responsibilities to Washington," said Nick Witney from the European Council on Foreign Relations. "If the West fails on Libya, it will be primarily a European failure."

In the end it was the French and British who filled the vacuum and with the wind of the Arab League behind them secured a UN resolution.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe raises his hand to vote in favour of a UN resolution on Libya

That was hard. What lies ahead may be harder. As of writing we don't know whether this will principally be a French/British operation. The Americans are briefing that no immediate US action is expected.

It should be possible to stop Gaddafi's planes from flying. But that may not in itself change the reality on the ground. Combat air patrols might be able to target his forces heading, say, for Benghazi. But very quickly Libyan forces will operate from within city perimeters and they will be difficult to dislodge without risking wider civilian casualties.

And say Benghazi is spared, Gaddafi won't relinquish his grip on other places. You might have a ceasefire of sorts but the world could be left with a divided Libya with Gaddafi still in power. After pushing for action, would Paris and London be prepared to see the Gaddafi family in control of much of Western Libya, albeit unable to use aggression against his own people?

The logic will be to arm and train the opposition. Does that fall under "all necessary measures"? And so the risk of mission creep...

We know with any military action that plans are quickly torn up. The unpredictable occurs. Although there will be no boots on the ground, getting into a country is always easier than getting out.

What is the exit strategy? When is it "job done"? When is it "mission accomplished"? Is this an operation to end the fighting or to finish off the Gaddafi regime? All difficult questions that lie ahead.

But today the French will say they have won a battle for intervention. As Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister said: "We cannot allow these warmongers to go on. We cannot let international law be flouted."

Libya and the ghosts of history

Gavin Hewitt | 13:48 UK time, Wednesday, 16 March 2011


To a degree nations, like people, are prisoners of their past. It is history that is clearing the road for Gaddafi's forces to besiege Benghazi.

When I was living in North America in the 80s almost every international crisis came with a warning against intervention. The two cautionary words were always the same: "Another Vietnam". Buried deep in the psyche of America's officer corps was the fear of the unwinnable war, of being bogged down in some faraway place. So every engagement had to come with an exit strategy.

Libyan rebel fighters fire artillery as they flee from pro-Gaddafi forces


With time, the Vietnam phobia faded. There were successful interventions: Saddam's forces were driven from Kuwait and the Taliban were kicked out of Afghanistan before they were allowed to return.

So an emboldened George W Bush and his inner circle believed democracy could be implanted in the Middle East with a little help from America's military. But even as the Iraqi invasion neared, some former generals remembered their history. General Colin Powell, who was the Secretary of State, warned Bush of the China shop rules: "You break it. You own it." Invade and all that country's hatreds and divisions become your responsibility. Another Vietnam. No one listened and American units are still there.

The French were implacably against the war in Iraq. One paper mocked them as weasels. Fries were no longer French. In the rasping no-prisoner bear-pit of American talk shows the French became "cheese-eating surrender monkeys".

Faced with Gaddafi's forces crushing the Libyan spring, the United States and France once again line up differently. President Obama is haunted by the ghost of "Dubya". He believes the invasion of Iraq was a mistake and damaged America's reputation. So he struggles with the idea of American forces once again in action in an Arab country.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote in the Sunday Times: "The truth is that in the wake of George W Bush, America's military reputation and its soft power as a moral exemplar have been degraded. The world has changed and American hubris cannot continue. Obama knows this..."

The French, who failed the world over Rwanda, are full of righteous indignation. It was summed up by their former Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner who said: "We've known since three weeks that the poor civil society, the poor people are dying. And we are doing nothing." President Sarkozy said: "We cannot stand idly by and watch civilians being massacred."

David Cameron began his premiership determined to resist the interventionist bent of Tony Blair. The British military was being scaled back. For a while we would operate plane-free aircraft carriers. But early on in the Arab awakening, Cameron became a born-again interventionist. He, too, insists "We cannot stand by". The UK has tabled a new draft UN Security Council resolution which includes a no-fly zone.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron speaking at a press conference following an EU summit meeting in Brussels


But "standing idly by" is precisely what is happening. The French and the British are still pushing a no-fly zone at the UN but time is running out. There is huge frustration with Washington. Neither Paris nor London knows what President Obama really thinks about a no-fly zone.

Allies like the Germans, however, seem implacably opposed. "A no-fly zone is not putting up a traffic sign but intervening with bombs, rockets, weapons," said Guido Westerwelle, Germany's foreign minister. "If it doesn't work - do we go further with land forces?"

The Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said: "We cannot have war, the international community should not, does not want and cannot do it."

If the Germans and the Italians are against, the Americans cannot make up their minds. The Russians and the Chinese are very wary.

Initially there was an argument to let the Libyan opposition win their own fight for democracy. It was empowering for the Arab world to witness a struggle for freedom. Early on, the opposition council in Benghazi were against a no-fly zone. That has changed. Slowly they are being crushed. Even the Arab League wants Western intervention.

The questions for the West are these: If Gaddafi is allowed to crush the opposition what message does it send? The Arab world will have watched Europe do nothing. Second, how can Europe brand itself as a defender of democratic values? Other autocratic leaders will be emboldened to use force.

The truth is Europeans are split. The West is divided. The UN can agree on sanctions but not on actions that might stop Gaddafi's forces.

Once, France and Britain acted alone. The place was Suez. The operation a humiliation. The then American President Dwight Eisenhower forced French and British forces to withdraw. It marked the end of the old colonial powers flexing their muscles. It may be, however, that in the future Europe will have to act without the United States. After all, the Americans are having to make savings on their military budget and Europe is one of the places they will make cuts.

Again history makes Europe shy of asserting its power.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, made an interesting point in the latest edition of E Sharp. She said: "The strength of the External Action Service (the EU's diplomatic service) will be, paradoxically, in its inability to throw its weight around. It represents soft power but with a hard edge. Its influence flows from the fact that it brings no baggage in its support for democracy..."

There is influence with soft power but it does not deter a leader like Colonel Gaddafi.

If Gaddafi wins, Europe will have to ask itself a tough question - did it fail the Arab spring?

Europe weighs nuclear risk

Gavin Hewitt | 15:51 UK time, Monday, 14 March 2011


The public came to accept nuclear power stations because the risks were thought to be small. Voters accepted reassurances. Experts were believed. The fail-safe systems were thought to be in place.

After the accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 the world was haunted by a China syndrome. Meltdown was the stuff of horror movies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel giving a speech about nuclear power

Time soothed away the fear. Long-standing opponents of nuclear power were won over. The world needed low-carbon energy sources and nuclear equalled clean energy. Longstanding sceptic-nations like Sweden recently overturned a 30-year-old ban on building nuclear plants. Across Europe and Asia, nuclear power stations were being built.

But in a deadly shudder that has overwhelmed many of the safety mechanisms at Fukushima, the nuclear debate has changed. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was a "decisive moment" for the world.

An old truth re-emerged. Accidents happen. The risk equation has altered.

So Switzerland today has suspended plans to build new nuclear plants and replace others. Three new sites had been approved. The government wants new safety measures in place that focus on seismic activity and the cooling systems. Switzerland's five reactors produce 40% of the country's energy.

Nuclear power has never been popular in Germany. There were demonstrations again at the weekend over a decision to extend the life of 10 atomic power stations. Controversially, Angela Merkel had decided to delay closing them for 12 years beyond their original shut-down date.

Protesters in Germany hold hands in a demonstration against nuclear power

That plan has now been suspended and Germany may be on its way to being nuclear free after 2020. The swiftness of today's decision reflects the fact that elections are due shortly in Baden-Wuerttemberg. The German chancellor sensed, with the events in Japan, that her policy was no longer sustainable.

The Austrian Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich has called for a series of stress tests to see if Europe's 143 nuclear power stations can withstand earthquakes. There is likely to be a safety review across Europe.

The French are being more cautious. After the United States, they are the second biggest nuclear power generators. Italy, which is prone to earthquakes, was considering new reactors. Almost certainly any plans there will stall.

The Russians, however, seem undaunted. Their plan is to increase electricity generation from nuclear plants from 16% now to 25% by 2030. That will involve building 40 new reactors.

But the Japanese earthquake has changed the risk equation. Low carbon economies almost certainly will have to turn more towards solar, wind and gas. The problem was always that relying on them alone would never enable Europe to meet its ambitious carbon-reducing targets.

Now nuclear will no longer be seen as the automatic way forward.

Europe wary of force

Gavin Hewitt | 18:50 UK time, Friday, 11 March 2011


David Cameron had wanted this emergency summit to show ambition and will in dealing with Colonel Gaddafi. Certainly Europe's heads of government were united in calling on the Libyan leader to give up power without delay. That was the easy part. There will be, too, further financial sanctions against the regime.

The UK prime minister had wanted a more robust European response. He described Colonel Gaddafi as a "pariah... still on the rampage, waging war against his own people".

He and the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, had urged planning for a no-fly zone - if it became necessary.

But for taking any kind of military action - including enforcing a no-fly zone - there was little enthusiasm.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "fundamentally sceptical" at the prospect of military intervention.

So in the final document there was no mention of a "no-fly zone". There was a commitment that "member states will examine all necessary options provided that there is a demonstrable need, a clear legal basis and support from the region. Those responsible will be held accountable and face grave consequences".

David Cameron in his post-summit press conference twice drew attention to the words "all necessary options". He insisted the language was strong, but almost certainly would have liked the EU to go further.

President Sarkozy said Europe was sending a signal that did not exclude the military option, but he conceded no one wanted to go down that path at the moment.

In truth Europe is divided over the use of force. The EU's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton had one of her press officers briefing of the risk of civilian casualties in any military action. Her view was that a no-fly regime could not be operational for five to six weeks.

What remains unclear is what might trigger European leaders to change their mind. Certainly any use of chemical weapons, or if there were large civilian casualties, would be a game changer. But Colonel Gaddafi seems to understand that, in the way he is deploying his tanks and air force.

For the moment Europe's leaders are hoping that international pressure will further isolate and weaken the Libyan leader.

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.

Libya: Decision time for Europe

Gavin Hewitt | 13:29 UK time, Thursday, 10 March 2011


The diplomatic moves over Libya gather pace.

Days of meetings lie ahead: Nato, the EU heads of government, the Arab League and possibly the UN again. There is an urgency that was lacking ten days ago. The belief then was that Col Gaddafi's support was crumbling. Now his forces are on the offensive.

A Libyan rebel on the frontline near Ras Lanuf, Libya (9 March 2011)

The international community is struggling to find a coherent policy. It wants to see him removed but is wary of direct intervention.

The Libyan leader, aware that the international community is moving against him, has despatched envoys to several European capitals to argue against measures such as no-fly zones.

Before the EU summit, the British and German governments have called for a declaration that EU governments will not work or co-operate with Col Gaddafi. Once again they have explicitly called for him to step aside.

So what will be discussed - particularly at the summit in Brussels on Friday?

No-fly zone

It is not up to the EU to implement a no-fly zone, but it will be discussed. The consensus in Europe just a few days ago was that a no-fly zone needed a clear UN resolution. Every European government agreed that such a step needed a clear legal basis.

Securing a UN resolution may be difficult. Russia is against, China is reluctant and Brazil remains to be convinced.

Increasingly, however, some foreign ministers are arguing that a UN resolution may not be needed. It would be sufficient, they argue, if Libya's neighbours called for a no-fly zone. The Gulf Co-operation Council wants it. So too, probably, do the Arab League and the African Union. It would be helpful to have the Organisation of the Islamic Conference on board. Support from these bodies might give the West cover to act.

The American administration is divided. It is sending out conflicting signals. But without Washington the no-fly zone won't happen. There are some indications that President Obama is inching towards supporting the UK and France, who are most clearly in favour of policing Libyan airspace.

Washington remains wary of using its military in another Middle East country. "The ghosts of Bush and Blair are hanging over the war," said Jon Marks from Britain's Cross Border Information consultancy.

Questions that may be asked over the next few days:

Can a no-fly zone be operated without killing Libyans?
Probably not. As soon as they turn on their air defence systems they will have to be destroyed. Col Gaddafi will use any attack as a propaganda moment to reveal the West killing Arabs.
Do the rebels want a no-fly zone?
Initially they didn't, but the opposition loosely based in Benghazi has changed its position. What they don't want is military intervention. They are strongly opposed to outsiders getting involved.
Will a no-fly zone make a difference?
Hard to say. Almost certainly it will deter Col Gaddafi's pilots from flying. But in the battles so far the planes have not been decisive. Some bombings have been so inaccurate that the rebels questioned whether the pilots were missing their targets deliberately. Arms depots have been hit, but the full force of air power has not been used against civilians. A no-fly zone would prevent mercenary reinforcements from reaching Tripoli by air.

Libya's leader Col Gaddafi (9 March 2011)

What it wouldn't do necessarily is stop helicopters, but they have only played a limited role so far.

The mood among members of the European Parliament seems to be strongly in favour of operating such a zone. Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt said an air exclusion zone "should have been decided on long ago". The Greens have said that the test of the summit is to prevent Col Gaddafi from winning.

There is another question: whether the EU or Nato can share intelligence with the opposition or even supply it with weapons. That point probably has not been reached.

The EU has already frozen the assets of 26 Libyans including the Gaddafi family. There is a visa ban against them too. Almost certainly European leaders will extend sanctions to include the Libyan Investment Authority, which manages Libyan oil.

The authority manages a $70bn sovereign fund to invest in prominent European companies. The sanctions may well extend to Libya's central bank. The hope is that this will squeeze Gaddafi's ability to finance his military operations. It also sends a powerful signal to the Libyan government that they are outcasts.

The German government has ordered a freeze on bank accounts held by the Libyan central bank.

Economic assistance
The EU sees the upheavals in North Africa as a defining moment. It wants to use its economic power to encourage democracy and to kick-start the economies of countries like Tunisia and Egypt. The British want to see a strengthening of economic co-operation and an opening of markets.

There is talk of setting up a fund to strengthen political parties, to build an independent judiciary and to bolster civil institutions. Other ideas relate to training young people.

Some want a reduction in tariffs. Most North African countries already have preferential access to EU markets. But some EU countries - like Spain, Italy, Portugal and France - will be reluctant to lower tariffs on agricultural imports.

The EU Commission has a 6bn-euro plan to support democratic reform in North Africa. There will be a stick and carrot approach. Countries that strongly embrace moves towards democracy will get more of the money.

Some like Martin Schulz MEP, speaking for the Socialists and Democrats, want the EU to embrace the equivalent of a Marshall Plan "on a scale that matches the historic nature of the changes we are seeing". He points out that the United States committed 1% of its GDP to get Europe on its feet again after World War II. Now, in an age of austerity, it may prove hard to persuade the voters that such sums should be spent in North Africa.

Humanitarian assistance
This won't be contentious. The EU is always happier discussing soft power. The planes of the UK and France have already been flying refugees back to Egypt. There will be discussion of whether to send in food (if needed) and medical supplies to rebel-held areas like Benghazi. The EU will want to be seen acting if large numbers of Libyans begin fleeing a civil war. That has not happened so far.

Recognising the rebels
The nearest the rebels have to a leadership is the Libyan Interim Council. Some in Europe would like the EU to recognise the Council. President Sarkozy has jumped the gun by recognising the rebels. Others may follow. It may be harder at EU level as the EU recognises states. It is also far from clear what centres of power may emerge later. But there are already meetings with the Libyan Council and those will be strengthened in the period ahead.

This is hugely sensitive for the EU. There is little or no argument about helping those fleeing fighting. The more sensitive question relates to those who use the instability to move to Europe for work. Some - like the Greens - want "legitimate refugees to be given safe havens in Europe". But other countries will be reluctant to admit new arrivals when unemployment at 10% is so high in the eurozone. The key question here is whether economic migrants will be allowed to stay. Col Gaddafi knows how this matters to Europe's voters. He said only yesterday "you will have immigration - thousands of people from Libya will invade Europe. There will be no one to stop this any more".

In all of this, Europe will need some humility. It supported and traded with many of the region's tyrants. These webs of influence are only now coming to the surface. The big question is whether the EU's newly-found support for democratic change will trump economic interests, particularly the need for oil and gas.

The role of Britain
Prime Minister David Cameron has surprised observers with his robust approach towards Libya. Some have described him as the "heir to Blair" in his desire for robust action. He supports a no-fly zone which would involve planes from the US, the UK and France. What David Cameron sees is a decisive opportunity to be on the side of those who want freedom, rather than supporting autocratic leaders.

We can expect that Cameron and Hague will be at the forefront in pushing for the strongest measures over Libya and North Africa in general.

Europe and the Year of the People

Gavin Hewitt | 12:27 UK time, Tuesday, 8 March 2011


There is a dirty word in Brussels. It is used to dismiss, to slap down, to end an argument. It is the word "populist". To be a populist is to be mistrusted at once, to mark yourself down as an outsider, to place yourself outside the walls of the Brussels European quarter.

I was reminded of this a few weeks back, over a story about high-earning European officials being entitled to three months off on full pay. According to reports in the Parliament, EU Commission President Barroso rejected the criticism by saying that he could not "accept populism against the European Civil Service".

Anti-Gaddafi demonstration in Brussels, 23 Feb 11

Delving into speeches I discover that Brussels critics are often denounced as "populists".

According to the Cambridge dictionary, the definition of "populism" is "political ideas and activities that are intended to represent ordinary people's needs and wishes."

The alternative to "populism" is "elitism'', where a small group of high officials and professional politicians believe they know better than the people.

To a degree government in Europe is a mixture of both. It has to be. However, officials in Brussels will tell you that the EU could not have been built without an elite.

It marks out Europe as being different say from the United States.

In America power flows from the people upwards. Local elections select the heads of school boards and police chiefs. Key posts at state level are decided by the people. And it is the people who send Representatives and Senators to Washington. In many parts of Europe - and particularly in the EU - power drips from the top down.

Once, when Bill Clinton was about to go campaigning, he said "I'm off to see the people who hired me". You're unlikely to hear EU commissioners uttering such words.

Now I digress because in Europe the so-called "populists" spot a new cause. It is migration and North Africa. On Friday the European heads of government will meet in Brussels. Libya will be on the agenda. One of the key parts of their discussion will be on migration.

Yesterday more than 1,000 migrants landed on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in 14 boats. Certainly when I was there they were nearly all economic migrants from Tunisia. It does not yet appear that any have come from Libya, but surely they will. The Italian Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, who previously had warned of a "biblical exodus", said yesterday that "Europe is being invaded".

We know how these new arrivals will be processed. We know how they will be cared for. We know that some - if they come from Libya - will be fleeing fighting and upheaval.

What we don't know is what will become of these people. Certainly - with fighting continuing - Europe has a duty of care. But longer term there will be the question: should they be allowed to settle in Europe or encouraged to return?

It is, of course, the people's question and Europe's politicians shy away from giving a direct answer. The line is that if Europe invests in North Africa then fewer people will see the need to migrate. It looks as if North African countries will be encouraged on the road to democracy with development aid and possibly an easing of visa restrictions. There could even be trade concessions. Many ideas are floating out there. Some are controversial.

So into the vacuum steps Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the National Front in France. Buoyed up by strong poll ratings she has said she may visit Lampedusa next week.

Colonel Gaddafi himself has stoked the fire. He told a French newspaper that "you will have immigration - thousands of people from Libya will invade Europe. There will be no one to stop this anymore."

And here is the dilemma. If the elite is seen to be evasive on issues that matter to ordinary people then significant numbers turn away from mainstream parties.

Over the next few weeks important decisions have to be made over the euro and how to prevent a repeat of the crisis that has threatened the single currency. Some of the ideas - wrapped up in the words "economic governance" - may involve a significant transfer of power away from nation states to Brussels. It is too early to say what the final package will look like, but if the changes are dramatic it poses again the question as to whether the people should get a say.

2011 is turning out to be the year of the people. They triumphed in Tunisia and Egypt and are on the march elsewhere. They insist on being heard and are challenging the old order. China is among the countries that fears the year of the people. It censors the internet and rounds up activists tempted to demonstrate.

Europe, because of its history, fears populism. But the challenge for mainstream politicians with North Africa is to address the people's real questions - however difficult that may be.

Ireland: Time for the Celtic rebel

Gavin Hewitt | 11:29 UK time, Friday, 4 March 2011


For a few weeks the crisis in the eurozone has faded from view. It has been eclipsed by other events but it never went away. It is now due for a return.

By the end of the month Europe's leaders have promised that a comprehensive deal will emerge to fix the problems with the single currency once and for all. Expect some late nights.

The curtain-raiser for these negotiations is a meeting in Helsinki today. It features Europe's conservative leaders who have gathered in the Finnish capital to talk, but not decide. That will come later.

Even as they float plans on how to prevent Europe's single currency from being buffeted in the future the fact remains that the current debt crisis has not been settled.

Greece and the Republic of Ireland were bailed out and put on a life-support machine. Their debt mountains, however, edge only higher. The day of reckoning may have been delayed, but it hovers on the horizon.

In Ireland the view is that the medicine prescribed by Brussels risks bankrupting the economy.

Among those turning up in Helsinki will be a mild-mannered 59-year-old former teacher. Enda Kenny now has the European stage. He is Ireland's prime minister-in-waiting. He rode to power promising Irish voters that he would renegotiate the Irish bail-out deal. The people found it humiliating. Mr Kenny wants to see the interest rate on the EU part of the deal - currently 5.8% - lowered. He wants the repayment terms lengthened. He also wants some investors (senior bondholders) in the banks to share in the losses.

Enda Kenny with voters in Co Mayo, 26 Feb 11

Now before the election Enda Kenny was regarded as uninspiring, bland, charisma-free. In a way that Napoleon would have valued he is, however, a "lucky" man. The voters were out to take revenge on his predecessors, who had presided over the wrecking of the Irish economy and then had bent the knee to the European Central Bank. Mr Kenny was handed power.

So even while he is still coalition-building he has now to deliver on his promises. In Helsinki he hopes for an audience with the high priest of the European economy, Angela Merkel.

His trip was not off to a robust start. "I'll certainly get a few minutes," he said before leaving Ireland, sounding like a man who was waiting to doorstep Chancellor Merkel. The Germans were not encouraging, briefing that a one-on-one meeting might not be possible because of a tight schedule.

But Mr Kenny may be underestimating the strength of his hand. He has a mandate from the voters. The people of Ireland want the terms of the deal changed. He can say that Ireland is not prepared to go along with what was signed last November. Governments play hard ball all the time.

Angela Merkel has already fired some warning shots. Europe, she said, can't "artificially reduce interest rates". In her view there should be no easy money for the reckless.

Maybe, but Ireland unilaterally could force some investors to take a haircut. The voters would like that.

The Europeans may insist that, in exchange for a loosening of the bail-out terms, Ireland abandon its low corporate tax rate. That, however, is part of the Irish brand and Mr Kenny can afford to say "no deal".

The crunch is that Ireland is under huge pressure to begin de-leveraging its banks. There are real fears in Ireland that this would end up as a fire-sale, selling assets into a distressed market. As one prominent businessman said, "fire-sales don't just stop in banks; they jump to every other kind of business".

That pressure will grow in the weeks ahead with a fresh stress test pending. Ireland could end up yet again having to put more capital into its banks.

Ireland would like a European solution to deal with its banks. It needs help, but it need not be muscled. Its bank debts are somewhere between 150 and 200bn euros (£128bn-£170bn) and the largest amount of capital is from German banks.

The Irish prime minister (Taoiseach) carries a grenade in his pocket. It is marked "default". The Irish bank governor says that Ireland defaulting on its loans was not an option that was "attractive to any part of Irish society". That may be true. But the EU fears an Irish default. It believes it would destabilise the entire currency zone. It would demonstrate that the current medicine of austerity and deficit-cutting has not worked.

But Ireland with a robust real economy might decide that the pain of a default would be relatively short-term and preferable to a bail-out that imposes austerity for a generation.

Danny McCoy of the Irish Business and Employers' Confederation was in Brussels this week and made an impressive case that the real Irish economy - away from the banking system - was surging. Exports are booming. The Irish balance of payments is in surplus. Unit labour costs have improved dramatically. Companies are expanding, although that has not led to a sharp pick-up in employment. Ireland remains an attractive country to invest in. It has flexible labour practices, it is business-friendly, with a well-educated workforce.

The question is whether those early green shoots will be allowed to grow or whether they'll be strangled by the terms of the bail-out and the debt that remains in the banking system.

So Mr Kenny should not hope for his few minutes with Chancellor Merkel. He can demand time. He can play the Irish rebel. He holds the cards. During the election he said the bail-out was "bad for Ireland, bad for Europe". During the Irish campaign he presented himself as a fighter for Irish independence. His moment has come.

Libya: The case for non-intervention

Gavin Hewitt | 09:47 UK time, Wednesday, 2 March 2011


As I was leaving Malta for Brussels the buzz on this tiny island, that has witnessed so much history, was whether it would be used to provide a platform for enforcing a no-fly zone against Libya.

Two American amphibious assault ships, the USS Kearsarge and the Ponce, are heading into the Mediterranean. One is capable of carrying 2,000 Marines.

David Cameron has ordered his defence chiefs to draw up plans to see whether Britain's soon-to-be-depleted armed forces can be involved.

USS Kearsarge - file pic

All of this talk took my mind back to when I witnessed outside intervention first-hand. It was back in 2003 and I sat on a Bradley as the American Third Infantry rode into the Iraqi city of Karbala.

This is what I wrote back then: "We patrolled. They waved. But there was a space between us. The American soldiers did not want the people close. They were liberated but not trusted. The people also held back. They were restrained, guarded, a half-smiling crowd... The men on the tanks had the power and the street knew that. What they did not know was what the Americans would do with their power."

That was the point: the overthrow of Saddam was "Made in America". There was no coherent plan for what came after. Out of terrible violence a democracy of sorts eventually emerged. But the Iraqis could never pretend this was their uprising.

The key fact about the Arab Awakening is that it is the work of Arabs themselves. It started with a street vendor in Tunisia who simply refused to be pushed around anymore. His sacrifice released a tide of anger across North Africa and the Middle East. It was rage against corruption, against leaders who enriched themselves and were bent on establishing dynasties. Crucially it was rage against shame.

As Fouad Ajami wrote in the New York Times this week: "There is no overstating the importance of the fact that these Arab revolutions are the works of the Arabs themselves. No foreign gunboats were coming to the rescue, the cause of their emancipation would stand or fall on its own."

The outcome of the Jasmine Revolution is far from certain, but it is Made in North Africa. From what I have heard, the opposition don't want foreign intervention. They are gradually putting together units that over time may be able to take the battle to Tripoli. They are forging the destiny of their own country. It is empowering, the moment that years of servitude are being thrown off.

However well-intentioned, any outside military intervention would rob the protesters of ownership of their future. If democracy emerged it would have been partially delivered by outsiders.

In Pakistan I am always struck by the politics of victimhood. I have listened to numerous politicians who say that all would change if only the Americans left their neighbourhood. It is, of course, a convenient excuse. It absolves them of taking responsibility.

Now the Senate in the United States has passed a resolution urging the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone zone. Others are much more cautious. The new French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe is among them.

Most European nations would only contemplate action if there was a clear UN resolution, although the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said "there have been occasions in the past when such a no-fly zone has had clear, legal, international justification, even without a Security Council resolution".

It is tempting for leaders to intervene. Sending in the military seems to flow in the life-blood of power. David Cameron, having previously opposed the liberal interventionism of Tony Blair, is now urging his defence chiefs to draw up plans. Military action may become necessary if Gaddafi threatens to use chemical weapons. The Italians believe he might do something desperate to defend the regime. Slaughter may reach a point where it becomes morally impossible to stand aside.

But overwhelmingly those who know the Middle East argue that this is a time to let them carve out their future.

There is much that Europe and the EU can do, particularly with its "soft power". Next week the EU will hold a summit where it can sketch out what it might do for those countries on the Mediterranean's southern rim.

The UK Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, is coming to Brussels. He will say all of this is "happening in our backyard". It is "a defining moment for Europe". His vision is of a Europe offering advice to build civic institutions, using trade to bolster democracy. It is less dramatic than patrolling the Libyan desert or Marines shipping arms to the opposition, but it enables the young men and women of North Africa to retain ownership of their revolution.

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