Release of the Bulgarian Nurses from Libyan Jail

A Lesson in Ruthless Special Interest Politics

The future of the EU's much-hailed "common foreign policy" has been placed at risk by France's independent negotiations with the Qaddafi regime and the upgrading of its status through Sarkozy's state visit. Andreas Zumach comments

The future of the EU's much-hailed "common foreign policy" has been placed at risk by France's independent negotiations with the Qaddafi regime and the upgrading of its status through Sarkozy's state visit. A commentary by Andreas Zumach

Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi welcomes French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Tripoli (photo: AP)
Sarkozy upgraded the status of Qaddafi's regime with a state visit, while at the same time securing billions in contracts for French companies in Libya

​​After eight years of wrongful imprisonment as well as physical and psychological torture in Libyan jails, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor are finally free. It is a cause of great joy. Yet, it is clouded by the events surrounding the release – a lesson in callous blackmail and ruthless special interest politics.

The human rights of the six freed medical workers played absolutely no role in the affair for the Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, while it was only of tactical significance for the French government and other EU states. Qaddafi's praising the release as a "humanitarian act" is pure cynicism.

In Libya, no independent judiciary

The dictator could have enabled the release of the six imprisoned medics at any time over the past eight years and let them return home – if he had so desired. This is because in Libya there is no constitutional separation of powers or an independent judiciary, which would have required the dictator to wait for investigations and a court case to be completed.

Instead, Qaddafi was engaged in a game high-stakes gambling until the very last minute, and, in the end, he got everything that he had demanded. This included 460 million US dollars for the families of the children with AIDS, claimed by the Libyans to have been infected by the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor, although Libyan hospital staff was in fact at fault.

Financial, technical assistance from the EU

In addition, there was a further 12.5 million euros from the EU as well as a correspondingly higher dollar contribution from the USA for the construction of a state-of-the-art AIDS treatment center. On top of this comes financial and technical assistance from the EU for archeological and restoration projects, although the desert state is far from poor thanks to its plentiful revenues from oil exports.

Access to the European market will also be eased for Libyan goods. The citizens of the North African desert state will receive a Schengen visa for visits to EU territory and Libyan students can soon expect scholarships to European universities.

The EU will also provide support to Libya in securing its land and sea borders, so that refugees from Africa will be prevented from traveling further to Europe. Over and above this clear case of self-interest, these gifts to Libya definitely put the EU on a rival course with the USA in courting the favor of the dictator in Tripoli.

Billions to be made

First and foremost, it is a matter of Libyan oil – there are billions to be made in contracts for Western companies as well as investment opportunities in the North African desert state. Washington ushered in the normalization of bilateral relations with Tripoli in 2004 by removing Libya from its list of rogue states and the resumption of diplomatic relations.

Libya plays a central role in the strategic plans of the Bush administration in securing the energy needs of the USA. It envisages a marked increase in oil imports from Africa by 2010. In addition, Washington is relying on cooperation with Qaddafi in its struggle against even worse "rogues," such as Osama bin Laden. And this expectation is not without just cause.

After all, the first international warrant for the arrest of the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network was not issued on 11 September 2001 nor did it come from the USA, but rather from Libya back in March 2000. Qaddafi is convinced that Al-Qaeda was behind a series of unsuccessful assassination attempts on his life during the 1990s.

Sarkozy, the most unscrupulous player

The competition for Qaddafi's favor, however, is not only between the EU and the USA, but is also raging within the EU itself. And France's new President Nikolas Sarkozy has shown himself to be the most unscrupulous player in the game.

Sarkozy managed to usurp many months worth of efforts by the EU presidency and its Foreign Minister at the very last minute, orchestrating the release of the six prisoners from Libyan dungeons as a national success for France.

Only a day later, he upgraded the status of Qaddafi's regime with a state visit, while at the same time securing billions in contracts for French companies in Libya. All of this does not bode well for the future of the EU's much-hailed "common foreign policy."

Andreas Zumach

© Qantara.de 2007

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

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