Though engaged in Somalia and the Sahel, the EU was almost completely absent as a security actor in the MENA region.
2013 saw the Arab Spring turn sour, with the coup in Egypt, persistent chaos in Libya, and the cataclysm in Syria destabilising Iraq and Lebanon. Yet the EU’s sole significant security contribution in this strategically vital region was a small border management assistance mission in Libya, arriving almost two years after the country started haemorrhaging arms and mercenaries. Lacking any credible military representatives or defence profile, the EU was unable to engage effectively with the military powerbrokers calling the shots from Algiers to Baghdad.
France, Italy, Spain, and the UK supported closer security co-operation in the region in 2013, but generally preferred to work with North Africa through other groupings such as the 5+5 (that is, France, Italy Malta, Portugal, and Spain plus Algeria, Libya, Mauretania, Morocco, and Tunisia) or bilaterally, according to their various interests in controlling illegal migration or securing commercial advantage. Italy assigned €250 million, largely for security projects in Libya, for which it also provides military personnel. Germany joined France and the UK as a big arms supplier to the region and received major new orders from Algeria and the Gulf. Malta also played an outsized role in regional security by training Libyan soldiers and Somali security forces and by participating in anti-piracy operations.
The EU’s focus was further south, with six missions (two of them military ones) deploying some 2,000 personnel (mostly afloat) from Somalia to Mali, supporting local governments against pirates and Islamists and other insurgents. The EU made further progress in Somalia and provided security training and advice, as well as substantial development and humanitarian aid, in the Sahel. In particular, the EU made new pledges in 2013 of €1.35 billion to Mali and €650 million to Somalia. But the decisive intervention in Mali was conducted by France rather than the EU, which thus passed up the perfect opportunity for a first-ever Battlegroup deployment. This tacitly confirmed that ambitions for CSDP are limited to training and advisory roles in the context of the “comprehensive approach”.