Blog AnalysisMediterranean seaMissions Operations

Operation Sophia. Stop or again!

(B2 in Bucharest) The moment of truth is approaching for Operation Sophia. Meeting "informally" in the Romanian capital this evening and tomorrow, the Ministers of Defense of the European Union must decide on the spot

Relief of Spanish soldiers (credit: EUNAVFOR Med / Sophia)

Are the ministers ready to go beyond the agreed language heard many times - the operation is 'very useful' -. Concretely, are they ready to continue to send resources (ships, planes, etc.) for the maritime operation present in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med / Ops Sophia)? After the half-departure of the Germans, the question is crucial. In fact, only the Italian, Spanish (and irregularly French) navies remain to provide ships. And the Italian will seems to be shaky. However, without a ship, there is no maritime operation. No need to hide it...

Frankly open the debate

The head of European diplomacy, the Italian Federica Mogherini, should thus frankly put the main question on the table to the ministers: either you contribute up to the objectives of the operation, or we close! From there could unfold a debate. If so, who is ready to contribute concretely? How to find a solution on the (unsolvable) question of the port of disembarkation? Should we review the mandate?

If not, what are we doing to continue training Libyan coastguards and sailors, which is today the main contribution to the operation, the exit solution and the main objective of the Europeans? Does NATO's (alternative) operation in the Mediterranean ensure the relay for monitoring the arms embargo? (1)

A purely political decision

If the hypothesis of closure prevails, it would be the first time (to my knowledge) that a military operation would be interrupted in this way, without a well-considered decision, on a political difficulty internal to the European Union, which has little to do with the objective defined from the military point of view.

An operation that did not deserve

If we take a step back, Operation Sophia was not unworthy. The officers, sailors, airmen who have been on deck (or in the air) for nearly four years have done the 'job' admirably, in not easy conditions. The objectives of the operation have, in part, been achieved (reduction of the migratory flow, etc.), even if other elements have weighed in the balance (Italo-Libyan agreement to limit departures) to improve the results. And achieving the other objectives (the fight against traffickers in Libyan territorial waters) is impossible to achieve in the short or medium term.

...but whose desired final effect is unattainable

Certain reasons which militated, at the beginning, for its installation (rescue at sea, fight against trafficking) may persist, but the political consensus is no longer united at all: the time in Europe is no longer at the generosity, but to the strict closing of borders. The rest to be achieved (the training of the Libyan coastguards) can very well be ensured by another mission (EUBAM Libya for example).

Comment: The European Union must be able to put an end to certain operations or missions which no longer have an active contribution or a raison d'être. It is not shameful or infamous. And it is, in any case, better than letting an operation 'die on its feet', for lack of means.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also: 'Ite missa est' for Operation Sophia?

  1. Question which is not so trivial, the leaders of the Lega having made no secret of preferring a NATO operation rather than an operation under the European flag.

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).