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 defense ministers of the European Union must decide directly

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

Are ministers ready to go beyond the agreed language we have 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, all that remains is the Italian, Spanish (and irregularly French) navies to provide ships. And the Italian will seems faltering. 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 frankly pose the main question on the table to the ministers: either you contribute to the objectives of the operation, or we close! From there a debate could take place. If so, who is ready to contribute concretely? How can we find a solution to the (insoluble) question of the port of disembarkation? Should we review the mandate?

If not, what are we doing to continue to ensure the training of the Libyan coast guard and sailors, which is today the main contribution of the operation, the exit solution and the main objective of the Europeans? Does NATO's (alternative) operation in the Mediterranean provide 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 carefully considered decision, on an internal political difficulty in the European Union, which has little to see with the objective defined from a military point of view.

An operation that was not unworthy

If we take a step back, Operation Sophia was not unworthy. The officers, sailors and airmen who have, for almost four years, been on deck (or in the air) have done the 'job' admirably, in not easy conditions. The objectives of the operation were, in part, achieved (reduction in the migratory flow, etc.), even if other elements weighed in the balance (Italian-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, initially, for its establishment (rescue at sea, fight against trafficking) may persist, but the political consensus is no longer at all united: the time in Europe is no longer at the generosity, but with the strict closure of borders. The remainder to be achieved (the training of the Libyan coast guard) can very well be provided by another mission (EUBAM Libya for example).

Comment: The European Union must know how to put an end to certain operations or missions which no longer have an active contribution or reason for being. It's not shameful or shameful. And it is, in all cases, better than letting an operation 'die on its feet' due to lack of resources.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

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

  1. A 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).