The Malta Independent 18 May 2021, Tuesday

Collaboration across the Mediterranean

Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi Sunday, 18 April 2021, 08:06 Last update: about 30 days ago

The last decade was characterised by turmoil in the Mediterranean region not least due to the upheaval in Libya. The country at the northern coast of Africa descended into chaos following the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi. A war-torn country, divided among several armed groups and with very slight effective governance, turned into fertile ground for crime with its shores fast becoming a gateway for irregular migration pathways to Europe run by gangs.

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With the benefit of hindsight one can trace at least partial responsibility to political short-termism in the European and Western approach towards an Arab neighbour.

For decades, Libya was always a strategic partner to Malta. An oil producing neighbour, sharing a semitic language and equally keen on forging bilateral relationships in the region and beyond, Libya and Malta exchanged investment and employment opportunities. In contrast, Libya in political tatters, signalled danger on our doorstep and by extension Europe.

Mintoff’s statement in Helsinki that peace in the Mediterranean meant peace in Europe, was true for the 1970s and remains relevant up to this day.

It was out of a sense of duty that Malta did its outmost part throughout each and every crisis experienced by Libyans in the past years, to put the Libyan issue at the forefront of the agenda in European institutions. We were constant in our position supporting a diplomatic and political solution to the crisis.

There is progress and stability is again on the horizon with a peace process supported by the United Nations standing firm. As he walks a fine line to keep different sides on board, interim Prime Minister Dbeibah is pushing the right buttons diplomatically and politically to deliver the country to a functional electoral process by the end of this year.

Europe has a role to play in this process. First of all it has to act to stengthen Libyan authorities’ capacity in security. It has an important part to play in the development of the North African neighbour and its reintegration in the international community. A common European stance goes a long way in this delicate process. A determinate European effort supporting peace in Libya is paramount.

Prime Minister Abela’s recent visit to Tripoli, his second visit in a matter of months, sends a very strong message in favour of the process Libya is undergoing. It is telling of Malta’s perception in relation to its relationship with the Maghreb state. Reopening Malta’s embassy and consulate in the Libyan capital signifies a sense of trust and the willingness on our part to drive the country’s path to normality. Restoring airlinks, key to communications and commerce, is a basic step in this route to normalising affairs.

As much as it represented risks over the past number of years, in its current situation Libya provides opportunities for Malta and for the rest of Europe. The North African country opens new avenues for visionary investors. Together with lasting peace, there are whole industrial sectors, services and lines of communication to be rebuilt in Libya. Libya’s road to a meaningful and effective participation in international affairs is diplomatic and political as much as it is economical and industrial.

As a European member state, and as a neighbour, it is to us a priority to take a collaborative approach towards the process of rebuilding Libya in political and economic terms. From an economic and a political perspective, it is important to set up the appropriate platforms for our participation in Libya’s present and future.

It is in our nature to forge alliances, to maintain good relations with our neighbours and it is visionary and strategic to contribute to a peaceful and prosperous Libya, our friend across the Mediterranean Sea.

Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi is parliamentary secretary for European Funds

at the Office of the Prime Minister

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