So Josep Borrel is ‘disappointed’, is he? How tragic…

And… um… the EU expects us to supporting a military operation to assist the perpetrator of such an atrocity (not to mention earlier accusations of having killed children, and denied access to clean water o over 2 million Libyans in the Greater Tripoli region)?

EU High Representative for external affairs, Josep Borrell
EU High Representative for external affairs, Josep Borrell

Heard the latest? Apparently, the European Union’s High Representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, is ‘disappointed’ by Malta’s unilateral decision to pull out of the EU’s Operation Irini in the Eastern Mediterranean (and, more pointedly, to veto funding for the same operation).

Erm… what can I say? How very sad. And how extremely selfish of us, as a nation, to not even consider what effects our heartless actions and decisions might have on the fragile sensitivities of humane, compassionate European Commissioners such as Josep Borrell...

After all: they’re human beings too, aren’t they? (Well… aren’t they?) So they must have feelings, just like the rest of us….

And yet, when it came to deciding whether to participate in an EU operation that can only escalate the humanitarian crisis welling up on our own doorstep… Malta chose to callously disregard all the hopes, dreams and expectations of the lofty superpowers of Europe; opting instead – like the ungrateful, insular people we have always been -  to defend our own interests for a change.

Can you imagine? I mean… the cheek of it all. Not to mention the sheer pig-headedness of the underlying assumption: i.e., that our tiny country should give precedence to its own national interest, over the vested interests of certain other member states in that war-torn (but still resources-rich) country called Libya.

Honestly. Where do we even get such bizzare delusions from, anyway? Has our experience of 16 years in the EU taught us nothing at all? By now, it should be perfectly obvious that all our own ‘hopes, dreams and aspirations’ are entirely frivolous, and therefore unworthy of attention by other members of such a mighty political/economic bloc.

But no: evidently, Malta still clearly clings to that childish, irrational notion, that the EU is somehow ‘obliged’ to address at least the most pressing, urgent concerns of all its member states.

Like immigration, for instance.  You know, that minor, unimportant little issue that Commissioner Josep Borrell – just like all his predecessors – has ‘disappointed’ us all by simply ignoring its existence altogether… time, after, time, after time.

Until now, at any rate. For let’s look on the bright side: Borrell’s ‘disappointment’ might not be the most felicitous response to Malta’s many, many complaints about immigration in the past… but at least, it IS a response of sorts: which is more than we ever got from the European Commission before, in all our 16 years of membership.

For instance, while Borrell was quick to let us know how ‘let down’ he was by our veto of Operation Irini… to date, he still has not replied to Malta’s formal proposal – made over three weeks ago – for an EU humanitarian mission to Libya.

Not only that; but by April 23, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs still seemed entirely unaware that the proposal even existed. Asked whether it was discussed at a video conference of EU foreign ministers that week (note: it was), Borrell first replied ‘No’, because ‘Malta had not asked for any aid package’… and then - when it was pointed to him that the proposed package was actually to aid Libya, not Malta – he waffled his way through an answer that clearly indicated he had no idea what the question was even about.

So if Borrell is ‘disappointed’ by Malta’s tactics today… well, you don’t need me to tell you how ‘disappointed’ Malta was, when faced with such a dismissive, evasive reaction from the EU’s highest Foreign Policy official.

But this, too, has its advantages. For now, at least, people like Josep Borrell might have an inkling about how so many of us feel, down here on the southernmost border of the EU: i.e., ‘disappointed’ by over a decade of total European indifference, to a problem that (rightly or wrongly) is repeatedly cited as the number one cause for popular concern.

Not a nice feeling, is it now, Mr Borrell? Especially when the extent of your disappointment also has to be measured by the nature of the expectation that has not been met.

Well, now that the EU’s High Representative for foreign affairs has had a small taste of the ‘disappointment’ some of us have felt for most of the those 16 years… it might interest him to know (but then again, it might not) that some of us here in Malta really did have very high expectations of the EU, when we joined in 2004.

Indeed, that’s the reason so many of us voted ‘Yes’ in that referendum:  joining the EU was understood to mean joining an international club of countries that really did look out for one another, in the spirit of ‘solidarity’ that the same EU likes to talk so much about.

We hardly expected it to translate into 16 years of being told, to our faces, that the EU doesn’t actually give a toss about our little country’s problems… and that the only important thing is that we kept on dutifully, obediently bowing our heads to the same EU’s every whim and fancy, every single time.

On the plus side, however: this also means that Josep Borrell is not alone in feeling the bitter pangs of betrayal. Just as he can now perhaps understand the disillusionment of so many Maltese people today… we, too, can relate to his l pain.

Speaking only for myself: I’d like to think that this episode provides an opportunity to bridge any differences that may now exist between us. So for the rest of this article, I’d like to offer a few words of encouragement in Mr Borrel, in this time of personal anguish.

This ‘Operation Irini’ the EU is so keen on pushing through at all costs? It really isn’t a very good idea, you know. I can fully understand that Borrell himself might not be in a position to see this for himself (after all, his eyes must be blinded by tears)… but Malta might actually be doing the rest of the EU a favour, by refusing to play ball in what would almost certainly evolve into (yet another) EU foreign policy fiasco.

For starters: the EU has yet to properly explain why it appears so keen on supporting the forces of General Haftar, against a ‘Government of National Accord’ that enjoys the recognition and support of the United Nations (including, on paper, the EU itself).

Naturally, this does not emerge from the stated aims of Operation Irini: which can be summed up as an attempt to ‘enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya’.

In practice, however, the operation only extends to blockading the Eastern Mediterranean arms supply chain to Libya… to the detriment of the GNA, which relies on deliveries made by Turkey (among others) through that same route.

Haftar, on the other hand, receives his weapons and funding by air and land across the Libya-Egypt border, as well as from the United Arab Emirates. These are harder to track, and impossible for Irini to intercept.

Now: the EU may well have its own good reasons to indirectly support General Haftar against the GNA (though if that’s the case, perhaps it should share them with the rest of us. I, for one, see no sense in backing a renegade warlord over a country’s legitimate government).

But the strategy is nonetheless likely to backfire in the long run, for at least two reasons that can be seen at a glance.

One is that, whatever other qualities he might possess (and I don’t deny that his CV makes for impressive reading)… General Haftar has allegedly committed war crimes in his westward push towards Libya. Just last month, his forces were accused of bombing Tripoli’s Al-Khadhra General Hospital, in an attack that targeted health workers at the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres has already warned that ‘attacks on health workers and facilities may amount to war crimes’, noting that ‘medical personnel and institutions are protected under international humanitarian law’.

And… um… the EU expects us to supporting a military operation to assist the perpetrator of such an atrocity (not to mention earlier accusations of having killed children, and denied access to clean water o over 2 million Libyans in the Greater Tripoli region)?

Um… no thanks. I would have thought it was already bad enough, that the current mess in Libya was in any case greatly exacerbated by the interventions of certain EU member states (mostly France and the UK); and it’s already ironic enough, that Europe now tries to ‘enforce an arms embargo’ on Libya… after having literally peppered the same country with weapons, during the first Libyan civil war 10 years ago.

So does the same EU really want to be held responsible, in future, for catapulting a suspected war criminal into the position of Libya’s next dictator?

I don’t know. It’s not exactly something you’d want on your own CV, is it now?

But apart from sparing the EU a lot of future embarrassment (as well as the possibility of international sanctions)… Malta’s veto of this flawed operation might also spare us all further escalation of a seemingly inevitable refugee crisis.

For by blockading the Eastern Mediterranean, while supporting Haftar’s rebel forces in their siege of Tripoli… Operation Irini would only force thousands of refugees (not just asylum seekers from other parts of Africa, but also ordinary Libyans fleeing from the horrors of war) through the Central Mediterranean route instead.

Just imagine how ‘disappointed’ we’d all be then… especially if the same EU continues to doggedly ignore all Malta’s immigration woes, as it has for so many years… after having itself acted as a major driving force, for a whole new refugee crisis on its own southern doorstep…

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