The European Union Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) agreed Monday the launch of a military missions against vessels carrying migrants crossing the Mediterranean sea.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, whose career background is briefly having been Italy’s foreign minister, said that she expected the decision to be taken “so that we can move forward with the planning and possibly launch the operation in the coming weeks”.
The plan to use naval force still requires further approvals from European governments and legal legitimacy from the UN Security Council, in addition to possible cooperation from countries in North Africa.
More than 10,000 migrants have been picked up alive from Mediterranean waters in recent weeks as they attempted to enter Europe from Libya.
Many hundreds of deaths at sea, including the drowning of up to 900 on a single vessel in the Mediterranean last month, have jolted European governments into a more robust response, but beyond greater funding for rescue operations, the EU is divided on how to act as anti-immigrant parties gain support at home.
The headquarters of the mission, called EU Navfor Med, is to be in Rome and will be led by Italian Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, a European diplomat said.
EU nations approved plans on Monday for an unprecedented naval mission starting next month to fight human traffickers responsible for a flood of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya.
Then, work to search, seize and disrupt the assets of smugglers, based on international law and in partnership with Libyan authorities will take place.
“Once we adopt the decision to establish the operation today, it would provide more urgency and more clarity for the drafting exercise of the Security Council resolution, ” Mogherini said.
Libya’s internationally recognised government in Tobruk – which is fighting both a rival administration in Tripoli and the rising threat of Islamic State militants – opposes the naval plan and said Brussels must talk with it first.
“One of the problems is that there might be foreign fighters, there might be terrorists trying to hide, trying to blend in among the migrants, ” Stoltenberg said when asked about reports IS was involved in the exodus.
The tougher stand against people smuggling comes amid a sharp spike in migration to Europe, much of it driven by a crescent of conflicts involving Islamic extremists from Nigeria and Mali to Somalia and Syria. “It cannot be done automatically”. There is a responsibility that the EU can take but there is a responsibility that Libya also has to take, ” she said.
“You can always start a mission upon the request of a country, ” Koenders said.
Moving into Libyan territorial waters, and perhaps even taking action ashore to hit at human trafficking networks, would be diplomatically sensitive and Russia has said it would not accept such action.