Why Europe seeks to fix Libya – for its own future

Ending a civil war in Libya may be a step toward ending the European Union’s conflict over migration.

Migrants from different African countries sit in an overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast Jan. 10.

Europe’s destiny, Angela Merkel often says, could be determined by the way it deals with mass migration. Indeed, the German chancellor’s own future was determined by how she dealt with nearly a million people flooding Europe from Africa and the Middle East four years ago. She welcomed them. By 2018, anti-immigrant politics had forced her to announce she will step down in 2021 – but not before she once again tries to shape the way migrants enter Europe.

On Sunday, Ms. Merkel hosts a high-level summit in Berlin to end the civil war in Libya, a major conduit for migration. Last year, nearly 95,000 people crossed the Mediterranean from both Libya and Turkey. At least 1,200 died during the treacherous journey. The current fighting in Libya threatens to turn it into a failed state – or a “second Syria” – and end its fledgling attempts to curb migration from the rest of Africa. About 600,000 migrants are currently stuck in the country.

At the summit, Ms. Merkel will not only be balancing Europe’s competing views of migration. She will also be dealing with foreign meddling in Libya by Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and many other countries. Last week, Turkey and Russia tried to arrange a truce in the war but failed.

Libya, whose longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi was ousted in 2011, is an oil-rich Arab nation under threat from Islamic radicals lying north of some of Africa’s poorest and more terrorism-troubled countries. In fact, the Pentagon refers to much of northern Africa as “the arc of instability.” Ms. Merkel has pushed the European Union to send money and troops to the region to attack the root causes of African migration. “Africa needs a self-supporting economic boom,” she said on a trip to the continent last year.

Much of her effort to deal with the migrants already in Europe and to stem the flow of new ones has had some success. But now Libya’s near-collapse could open the floodgates again. In addition, the World Bank estimates climate change will force 86 million people in sub-Saharan Africa to migrate by 2050. Many would attempt to reach Europe.

Ms. Merkel, like the EU, has been on a long learning curve about migration. The issue even played into Britain’s vote to exit the EU. Within Germany, Ms. Merkel’s chosen successor, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has called on politicians to value “the binding over the divisive.” At Sunday’s summit in Berlin, Ms. Merkel will try again to seek common ground for peace in Libya so that her own country and the EU can find peace on the divisive issue of migration.

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