Negotiations Hit Yet Another Slump as Oil Sector Struggles
During the course of the past week, the third draft of the Political Agreement, currently being negotiated between the Tripoli and Tobrukestablishments and facilitated by UNSMIL, was circulated to representatives of both Libyan national-level blocs and then subsequently leaked to the international media. It is quite possible that UNSMIL was prepared for the leak and allowed it to take place to gauge public opinion and elite reactions to the proposals. Unsurprisingly, given the number of pro-Tobruk propositions included, the draft document was quickly rejected by the rump GNC and by boycotting members of the House of Representatives. The primary reasons for criticism were due to the document’s recognition of the HoR as the sole legislative authority in the country and to the significant de facto veto powers allocated to this institution over decisions taken by the proposed ‘Government of National Accord’. Furthermore, in principle, the adoption of the current draft could very well signify the extension of the HoR mandate for up to another two years, thus granting very limited representation in the legislative process to blocs and movements that came out defeated from the last electoral run. In addition to this, criticism has been raised over the vague definition of powers and competences of institutions and bodies proposed in the document to include all stakeholders, such as the Supreme Council of State.
Tensions and divisions around the current proposal became all the more evident at a meeting on Thursday 30 April in Tunis when GNC representatives refused to participate, although reaffirming their overall interest in being part of the UN negotiations process. On the other hand, while boycotting HoR members from Misrata voiced their discontent with the pre-eminence granted to the HoR in the future institutional landscape, HoR members and delegates granted their full support for the proposal and warned UNSMIL Chief Bernardino Leon about the risks of caving in to pressures from Tripoli militias and armed groups. These events and statements confirm that the Tobruk establishment appears to have the upper hand in the negotiations process and that the UN has been unable to strike the right balance between opposing sides.
From his side, UNSMIL Chief Bernardino Leon reiterated that this was only a draft document and still part of a process of trial and error aimed at reaching a sustainable deal between the two blocs where all parties would be required to compromise parts of their requests. Leon further confirmed that negotiations were still scheduled to resume in the Moroccan town of Skhirat during the next couple of weeks and that UNSMIL would soon start to apply pressure to carry out direct face-to-face negotiations, rather than indirect ones, and to finalise a deal before the start of the month of Ramadan in late June. Pressures over and scrutiny of the negotiations process will also continue to be applied over national and regional stakeholders by the EU and its diplomatic representatives. The figures for 2015 relating to deaths and arrivals of migrants smuggled from the Sahel and North Africa to Europe are taking a toll over public opinion in Western Europe. This is spurring governments to look for sustainable and forward-looking solutions to the issue of transnational migrations, beyond the adoption of quick-fix military missions aimed at rescuing vessels stranded at sea or bombing smugglers’ boats anchored in Libyan ports. Clearly, although not necessarily popular with media and public opinion in Western Europe, the establishment of a reliable set of political and security institutions in Libya, with the necessary capabilities to monitor and man the country’s vast and porous borders and curb smugglers networks operating across ports, would represent the first step to achieve lasting results with regards to the issue of illegal transnational migration. EU Foreign policy chief Mogherini has hinted that she favours using the crisis to push in this direction and transcend the petty search and rescue and militarisation approach.
Overall, quiet optimism continues to be registered among some factions that a deal will be soon finalised, leading to the formation of a national unity government in Libya. However, as of Thursday 7 May no further updates emerged with regards to the resumption of negotiations in Skhirat. Nonetheless, although this would represent an improvement and a much needed step in the right direction, the importance of a political agreement should not be overstated. As a matter of fact, the finalising of a political deal would likely only represent the beginning of a very long stabilisation phase requiring significant external assistance.It is in fact unclear how critical parts of the political agreement draft circulated last week could ever be implemented without significant external assistance, especially with regards to the demobilisation of armed groups and militias currently holding sway across Libyan towns and territories. Whilst it appears that Libyan actors expect the finalising of a political deal to translate quickly in a full blown EU/UN support mission active inside the country, there are no elements at present indicating that an appetite for such an expensive and unpopular undertaking is present among key international stakeholders.
Lastly, negative news continue to emerge from the oil sector. As of this week, the country’s overall oil production is set to plummet well below 500,000bpd due to the continuing closure of the el-Feel oil field in the Murzuq basin and by the forced shut-down of the oil pipeline entering Zueitina’s oil terminal. These closures are both caused by strike of local security forces and workers over salary issues. Similarly, the al-Wafa gas and oil field has also been rumoured to be going through a tense phase with repeated threats of blockade by security personnel manning it. Work-related mobilisation was also at the basis of a failed strike defused on Sunday 3 May at the port of Mersa Brega. As the country’s ability to pay off workers and militias decreases over the next months, the likelihood of such port and oilfield strikes will likely increase, feeding in turn a vicious cyrcle that will become increasingly difficult to break.