EU summit split on Libya, upset by Portugal

24th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Europe's leaders head into a crucial summit Thursday, torn over the military campaign in Libya and calls for NATO to take its reins, as they strive to seal a long-anticipated deal to shore up the euro.

Originally scheduled to agree a lasting game-plan after financial crises in Greece and Ireland undermined the common currency, European Union leaders gather from 1600 GMT facing a fresh financial storm over troubled Portugal.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates resigned on the eve of the summit after parliament rejected his minority government's latest austerity plan -- aimed at avoiding a multi-billion euro financial bailout such as those granted to Athens and Dublin last year.

Cost-cutting proposals such as those rejected by Lisbon threw thousands of rowdy trade unionists into the streets of Brussels with police throwing a tight security ring around EU headquarters hosting the two-day meet.

The summit too looks set for high drama over its common foreign policy due to severe splits over the international campaign against Moamer Kadhafi's regime as well as NATO's potential role in it.

"It's sad to think the EU finally found a solution to the economic crisis but that faced with a foreign policy emergency it has totally lost its way," said a senior EU diplomat who asked to remain anonymous.

"Europe's common security and foreign policy is in crisis," he added. "Europe's practically hit rock bottom on Libya".

In a historic move, Germany broke ranks with its EU partners by abstaining on last week's Libya resolution at the UN Security Council, while Italy and others have shown growing irritation with coalition leaders Britain and France.

France meanwhile is reluctant to give political control of the Libya campaign to NATO, despite calls from several allies for the 28-nation military organisation to take over the lead from the United States.

"There is some resistance among NATO member states. France has been the most intransigent," said Italian foreign ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari.

"Europe has divided. This isn't anti-French. We are talking about an important mission in which Europe has to act together to be credible."

Tensions between member states were "less dramatic" and "less impassioned" however than in 2003 over Iraq, when France refused to join military action, said Andre Deletroz of the International Crisis Group.

At the summit dinner Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy will outline their thinking on the campaign in Libya, while leaders from Italy and Malta are expected to ask counterparts for help in addressing a potential migrant exodus -- another divisive EU issue.

Looking to the future, the EU is to mull new guidelines for policy towards its neighbour nations of the southern Mediterranean, including more trade and aid for pro-democracy countries, and more help for civil society.

"Redistributing available EU cash to democracies in the making will give a very strong message," said Deletroz.

"But it will be very important for Europe to tread carefully, to listen to what is wanted, after an era of dealing with dictators and closing an eye to rights abuses."

© 2011 AFP

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