Italy is set to be the European country hit hardest by the violence flaring up in Libya, which is facing the most difficult time since strongman leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 after 42 years in power.
With rising tensions likely to lead to a civil war in Libya, Italian energy company Eni, the European company with the largest presence in Libya, has withdrawn its Italian national staff from the capital of Tripoli as well as from the Al-Wafa and El Feel oilfields.
Most of Italy’s diplomatic representatives have also been recalled, according to Italian media.
But the biggest impact stemming from the violence and instability could be the rising risk of terrorism in Europe and the Mediterranean region while the number of would-be asylum seekers grows dramatically and tests Italy’s hardline anti-migrant stances, analysts told Xinhua.
“This is the worst situation in Libya since 2011, and it’s going to have serious effects in the region, especially for Italy,” said Giampaolo Malgeri, head of the degree program for International Political Sciences at Rome’s LUMSA University and director of the Greater Mediterranean Stability and Security Observatory, in an interview.
Libya has been gripped by violence for most of the past eight years, but conditions have worsened in recent weeks.
Italy has deeper and stronger ties with Libya than any other European country, as Libya had been an Italian colony for most of the first half of the 20th century. Even after Libya’s independence in 1947, Italy maintained strong ties with Libya and was among the few countries having normal relations with the Gaddafi government. Italy also remained dependent on Libyan energy.
Italy’s current government under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte immediately took a hardline anti-migrant stance after taking power nearly a year ago. Part of the strategy involved funding and training the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrant ships and return them to Libya.
“If there’s no Libyan state, then the Libyan coast guard will no longer be able to do that part of the job,” Giuliano Bifolchi, director of the analysis unit for ASRIE, the Association of Studies, Research and Internationalization in Eurasia and Africa, told Xinhua.
Bifolchi said the extended instability in Libya is also likely to produce more refugees, making it harder for Italy to maintain its closed-border policies toward potential asylum seekers.
“Italy is already in a difficult position, one that will probably get much more difficult,” Bifolchi said.
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s minister of the interior and the main architect of Italy’s closed-port migrant policy, told reporters at the Group of Seven (G7) summit in France that the “balance of the Mediterranean is at stake” in Libya.
The G7 issued a statement this week condemning violence in Libya. The statement came as the United States pulled its peacekeeping forces out of Libya and other countries are considering similar moves.
“Italy is going to have to push for the European Union to play a role,” Malgeri said.