Europe Pressured To Do More To Help Libya

Originally published on September 6, 2011 8:53 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: For many Europeans outside the administrative bubble of the European Union, helping rebuild Libya may be a tough sell these days. People are far more concerned with big problems here at home, including a sovereign debt crisis that threatens to plunge the region into a second recession.

KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA: Understandably, people tend to say let's worry about ourselves. And yet Europeans so far have been very generous. It is in our backyard, this is our neighbor. We have a responsibility.

WESTERVELT: That's Kristalina Georgieva, the E.U. Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. So far, the E.U. and member states have spent more than 150 million euros for Libya. They're the largest humanitarian donor in the crisis. Georgieva says a small, quick reaction team is now on the ground in Tripoli. They're fast-tracking aid grants, tapping into pre-placed supplies and assessing need. The priorities: water, health care, sanitation, and security, especially for third country nationals.

GEORGIEVA: Any place access would open up, we will be pre-positioned with partners to get help to people, to open up humanitarian hubs.

WESTERVELT: But Ian Lesser, director of the German Marshall Fund's Trans-Atlantic Center in Brussels, says the door seems open for more subtle ways for the West to help Libya meet its vital institution-building needs.

IAN LESSER: Demining, for example. Security sector reform. How do you remake a security establishment - not just the military but also the security services, internal security service in Libya, in ways that are not as abusive? Defense cooperation, training, equipment - all of these things are areas where the West can help and may not require large numbers of people on the ground.

WESTERVELT: But others wonder whether the E.U. is really up to the task. Some have criticized its foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, saying the E.U.'s response to the Arab Spring revolts has been too slow, lacking in concrete help, and heavy on lofty rhetoric. That's the view of Giles Merritt, who directs the Brussels think tank Security and Defense Agenda.

GILES MERRITT: And the E.U., now it is boasting that it's got a security and defense arm. About time it showed it.

WESTERVELT: Merritt says the E.U. now has a chance to redeem itself, with a robust and quick helping hand for Libya that includes technical and political assistance reforming the security services, and aid building the institutional underpinnings for democracy.

MERRITT: This is a real opportunity for Ashton to show her mettle and for the E.U. to get its act together and go to the Arab world and say, look, we have two things to offer. One is economic development. The other is a security framework, which is also a political framework, that give a sense of stability to these new governments. Because it's clear that the Arab League isn't up to the job.

WESTERVELT: Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.