BRUSSELS – The European Union agreed on Monday to launch a new naval and air mission to prevent more weapons from reaching warring factions in Libya, overcoming initial protests from Austria and Hungary, which feared the mission would encourage more migrants to try to come to Europe.
The foreign ministers ’decision was a victory for the new European foreign policy director, Josep Borrell Fontelles, who criticized the need for consensus among all member states to make decisions on foreign and security policy.
The new mission will be limited to the eastern Mediterranean, where most of the arms smuggling to Libya takes place, out of the way most immigrants follow in an attempt to reach Europe from chaotic Libya. The agreement satisfies the objections of strong anti-immigrant states such as Austria and Hungary, which have moved sharply to the right in recent years.
Mr. Borrell had warned that the European Union could not stand idly by while neighboring Libya was involved in a civil war that had recently been helped by Russia and Turkey, which were supporting the opposite sides.
At the Berlin summit meeting last month, world leaders agreed to encourage a cease-fire and stop the flow of arms to Libya, but little has changed on the ground and fighting continues.
The Fayez al-Sarraj government in Tripoli, with United Nations support, is under attack from forces led by Khalifa Haftar, who controls most of the south and east of the country. He enjoys the support of countries such as Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while Mr. Serag has the support of Turkey and Qatar.
The new EU arms embargo replaces the European Union. The mission that was over – Operation Sofia – that was rescuing migrants off the Libyan coast and transporting them to Europe. Italy, Austria and Hungary intercepted for fear of an influx of immigrants. The Sofia process has been inactive since March, but it has not officially ended.
Mr. Borel had hoped to revive the Sofia process, and criticized Austria on Sunday for obstructing its revival, saying it was futile for a landlocked country without the freedom to use this veto.
Austria took a tough stance against immigrants during the reign of its current advisers, Sebastian Kors, and its position was supported by another landlocked country, Hungary, whose right-wing populist government also took a hard line against immigration.
“We all agree to create a mission to prevent the flow of arms to Libya,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi de Mayo told reporters, referring to the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations for the first time in 2011, but it was widely violated. Reimposing the blockade is essential to stabilizing the Libyan conflict. Recent efforts To restore the ceasefire there collapsed.
But Mr. de Mayo also said that if the mission “creates a“ pull factor ”, meaning that ships attract migrants, the mission will be stopped.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg likewise said that Vienna would be alert to any indications that the mission, which would take several weeks to establish, would attract migrants to Europe.
“There is a basic consensus that we now want a military operation, not a humanitarian mission,” he said.
Mr. Borrell said he hopes the process will patrol by the end of March and operate in international waters, not Libyan waters.