Blog AnalysisMediterranean seaMissions Operations

The Sophia operation is rowing. Why ?

(B2) More than 18 months after its launch, we can begin to draw up an initial assessment of the EUNAVFOR Med / Sophia operation in the Mediterranean. He's not great. Might as well say it clearly. Libyan human trafficking networks are not eradicated or even really disrupted.

Certainly more than 220 rescue operations at sea have been carried out since the start of the operation, helping just over 32.000 migrants. But this was not the primary objective of the operation, just a consequence: rescue at sea is a general obligation.

Certainly the systematic destruction of vessels used by traffickers (372 vessels since the start of the operation) takes away some of their trafficking capacity. But it is immediately replaced or traffickers diversify their methods. Better, to the traditional zone, coming from Libya, from the Zuweira – Misrata zone, an Egyptian route has been added since last fall. Egyptian traffickers now account for around 10% of the traffic arriving in Italy (around 10.000 arrivals out of the 140.000 recorded until the end of October).

Certainly more than 100 individuals suspected of trafficking were handed over to the Italian authorities, who are responsible for trying them. But, in general, these are mainly performers or supervisors, or even simple migrants who have been responsible for ferrying their ship.

The goal of the " deterioration of the (maritime) capacity of traffickers » is thus only achieved “ at 30% », according to the latest report which covers most of the 2016 period. Suffice to say that the objective is far from being achieved, and even that there is a semi-failure. “ When we give this figure, it means that we have not reached a third of our objective… it’s low » confirms an operations specialist…

Admittedly, the operation began, in September 2016, to control the area at sea, to ensure compliance with the arms embargo. But, in several months of control, only one suspect boat could be controlled, according to our sources. It's not that there is no traffic. But it is necessary to ensure the feedback of information. And only two ships to control the area, it's a bit stingy...

As for the training of the coast guard, it still appears to be in its infancy. An initial training of around 80 coastguards has just been carried out on a Dutch ship and an Italian ship. The question now is to continue this training. And… there’s no money!

In summary, as they say in European corridors, the operation 'does not deliver' (does not lead to concrete results).

Challenging Operation Sophia (EUNAVFOR Med) or saying “there is nothing to do” is however very easy. But the sailors engaged in this operation cannot really do much more. There is no Libyan government. Libya has remained, for five years, a no man's land ungovernable. It is with the Franco-British intervention, one of the most beautiful failures of military interventions of recent times (1).

Ships still cannot enter Libyan territorial waters to police... Partly, because the authorities do not want it, and there is a significant danger. But, in part, also because the international community does not want it. Here again, the Libyan experience of 2011 left indelible traces (2).

As for the financing of training, the operation commander is obliged to pass the question among the Member States. And few really responded positively. A project was presented by the Commission to set up a small equipment and training fund (CBSD, formerly “Train & Equip”), which could be used for this objective. It remains stuck in legislative limbo between the Council (the member states and the European Parliament).

As a result, a review of the objectives is underway. And everyone perceives, internally or in military circles, that we must move on, strengthen the operation, achieve more results, and more quickly, because banking on a relay by the new Libyan state appears very fragile. This is the whole objective of certain measures that the High Representative and the European Commission will present in Malta, during the informal summit of 27, at the beginning of February. This was also the whole point of “the line of protection” desired by Malta.

The European operation at sea does not have a lot of resources, in terms of personnel or boats, to carry out all these objectives. Member States, each for excellent reasons, are reluctant to put in more resources. Everyone is going to have to move their butts a little..., put their hands in their pockets and align what is said out loud (we must act) with actions (3).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also:

(1) The opposite of De Gaulle's thought in fact: we have won a battle, we have lost the war.

(2) The bitter memory of a resolution used to the end, even distorted from these initial objectives to move from the protection of the civilian population to the overthrow of a government in place, led to an impregnable veto. Russia, like China, will refuse any draft resolution authorizing penetration into territorial waters... or else we will have to buy this veto very, very expensively.

(3) Some countries do not participate at all or very little in this operation in an operational manner (Sweden and Poland in particular, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria also). Countries which often express loud and clear that action must be taken against migration. Not all of them have maritime resources (except Sweden and Poland) to lend a helping hand. But there may be other means to participate: planes, special forces, rental of resources (drones, planes, boats, etc.) from other organizations.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).