House of Lords committee says EU's Operation Sophia deals with "symptoms, not causes" and "cannot deliver its mandate" 13.5.16

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A new report from the UK House of Lords' European Union Committee has commended the EU's "anti-smuggling" military operation in the Mediterranean for its efforts at search and rescue, but notes that it is ultimately unable to meet its aims of deterring migrants, disrupting smugglers' networks and thwart smugglers' business models as it deals with "symptoms, not causes".


See: House of Lords European Union Committee: Operation Sophia, the EU's naval mission in the Mediterranean: an impossible challenge (13 May 2016, pdf)

UPDATE: The mandate that the European Union Committee considers "cannot be delivered" has been extended by a year, with new tasks given to the mission - see further below, along with an EEAS planning document on Libya

The report's summary, in full:

"Since 2014, Europe has been struggling to respond to an exceptional number of irregular but voluntary migrants2 seeking to cross European borders. On 19 April 2015, off-the-coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, a boat carrying nearly 700 migrants capsized and almost all its passengers drowned. The Lampedusa tragedy changed EU policy. Four days later, the European Council pledged to take steps to prevent further loss of life at sea, fight the people smugglers and prevent illegal migration flows. In May, a new naval mission—Operation Sophia—was deployed in the central Mediterranean. It currently patrols a vast area of the high seas off the coast of Libya to Italy, gathering information, rescuing migrants, and destroying boats used by smugglers.

Critics suggested that search and rescue activity by Operation Sophia would act as a magnet to migrants and ease the task of smugglers, who would only need their vessels to reach the high seas; these propositions have some validity. On the other hand, search and rescue are, in our view, vital humanitarian obligations. We commend Operation Sophia for its success in this task.

The mission does not, however, in any meaningful way deter the flow of migrants, disrupt the smugglers’ networks, or impede the business of people smuggling on the central Mediterranean route. The arrests that Operation Sophia has made to date have been of low-level targets, while the destruction of vessels has simply caused the smugglers to shift from using wooden boats to rubber dinghies, which are even more unsafe. There are also significant limits to the intelligence that can be collected about onshore smuggling networks from the high seas. There is therefore little prospect of Operation Sophia overturning the business model of people smuggling.

The weakness of the Libyan state has been a key factor underlying the exceptional rate of irregular migration on the central Mediterranean route in recent years. While plans for two further phases would see Operation Sophia acting in Libyan territorial waters and onshore, we are not confident that the new Libyan Government of National Accord will be in a position to work closely with the EU and its Member States any time soon.

In other words, however valuable as a search and rescue mission, Operation Sophia does not, and we argue, cannot, deliver its mandate. It responds to symptoms, not causes.

We recognise the broader, strategic challenges of migration policy, as considered in our report, EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling (November 2015). Migration to Europe is part of a much larger phenomenon of the mass movement of people globally. Long-standing grievances, both economic and political, as well as the recent deterioration in security conditions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), have directed flows of people towards safer havens and better living conditions in Europe. Mediterranean migration has become a global issue, connecting Europe with sub-Saharan Africa and the MENA, and funding a lucrative criminal economy. By virtue of geographical proximity, Europe is at the front line of this trend, but this is a global issue with consequences well beyond the European continent, affecting all developed economies."

UPDATE: Mandate extended

Member State officials sitting in the Council's Political and Security Committee agreed on 12 May 2016 "to extend the mandate of Operation Sophia by one year with continued emphasis on its core mandate of disrupting the business model of human smugglers and traffickers."

A statement from European External Action Service chief Federica Mogherini continues:

"It was also decided to add two further supporting tasks to the operation; capacity building and training of, and information sharing with, the Libyan Coastguard and Navy based on a request by the legitimate Libyan authorities taking into account the need for Libyan ownership, and contributing to information sharing, as well as implementation of the UN arms embargo on the High Seas off the coast of Libya on the basis of a new UNSC Resolution.

This will now require political endorsement by the Council. The Operational Commander has been requested to urgently start operational planning on these two additional tasks, and preparatory work, including on planning, will continue in the coming days.

These developments are very welcome given the urgency of the situation in Libya. I will have the opportunity to discuss this further with the Libyan Prime Minister in Vienna on Monday at the Libya conference convened by the United States and Italy."

See: Statement by HR/VP Federica Mogherini on EUNAVFOR Med Operation Sophia (EEAS, link)

And a key document: European External Action Service: Planning for a possible non-executive Civilian CSDP mission in Libya (7491/16, 1 April 2016, pdf):

"5. This paper... describes the factors governing existing planning and outlines an option for developing civilian police capacities both to support the functioning of the GNA [Government of National Accord] in Tripoli as a functioning government, to underpin broader efforts on Security Sector Reform (SSR) across Libya, and to develop capacity in the Criminal Justice Sector (CJS). The paper underlines the need for close cooperation with UNSMIL.

6. The proposed option does not focus on directly developing coastguard capacity. Nonetheless, the paper notes the possibility for the proposed option to address law enforcement aspects of coastguard activities."

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