Libya is in transition towards democracy and is welcoming assistance from friends. That is what vice-prime minister Mustafa Abushagur stressed at the foreign affairs committee of the European parliament last week. That is also what I have been confirming in my monthly visits to Libya.
Since the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi started on 17 February 2011, Libyans have contradicted doomsday tellers, showing determination to move towards democracy, national resilience and organisational skills. Security has improved, local governing committees have been freely elected in cities, and the first national electoral process is to elect, before next Ramadan, a national congress with legislative powers.
The national congress will appoint a committee to draft a constitution and empower an interim government. Over two million citizens registered to vote in just 15 days. Abushagur informed the parliament that Libyans hope for democratic governance to improve their lives and country.
Naturally, the dictatorship left a crippling heritage for the transition. This is why the EU must now do all it can to support Libyans in practical terms. This corresponds to Europe's own strategic interest with Libya lying at its doorstep. From migration flows to regional security, from oil to general trade, from Mediterranean integration to African development, the EU has a direct interest in helping establish a new democratic Libya.
"European assistance is expected in many fields, from electoral support to constitutional regulation, from education and vocational training to diversifying the economy, from enabling media, women and young people in civil society to disarmament, security sector reform and border control"
Having done the most difficult, the military campaign supporting the Libyan fighting on the ground to get rid of the dictatorship, Europeans musts now deliver what they are used to, at home and in the neighbourhood. That is assistance in building democratic governance and ensuring the rule of the law.
Libyans want the EU to be involved. "It is not about money", a national transitional council member told me, stressing that the oil income of before be resumed, "It is rather about learning how to manage it properly, distribute it with equity and account democratically for it".
European assistance is expected in many fields, from electoral support to constitutional regulation, from education and vocational training to diversifying the economy, from enabling media, women and young people in civil society to disarmament, security sector reform and border control.
The EU foreign affairs chief must make use of the multiplicity of instruments in the EU toolbox to enact immediately a comprehensive strategy to respond to Libyan requests and needs. That cannot be done with a minimum structure barely able to raise the flag in Tripoli and occasional high level visitors from Brussels, no matter how frequent.
The EU delegation needs not just an ambassador but to be adequately staffed to interact with Libyan authorities and society throughout the cities. And expertise from Brussels and member states, governmental and non-governmental, must be mobilised and sent in with a long term engagement prospect.
"Libya is a test case to the structure set by the Lisbon treaty to enhance the EU's role in the world"
A Europe house in Benghazi should offer consular, cultural and commercial services from member states. And the visa policy review should facilitate personal and business exchange.
Libya is a test case to the structure set by the Lisbon treaty to enhance the EU's role in the world. It is about the union's coordinated and coherent action, not about allowing member states to go back into selling arms or nuclear power plants to whoever sits in power in Tripoli.
The EU was crucial in assisting and legitimising the popular revolution in Libya. Let's not now leave to others to finish the job. For the results, good or bad, will also be felt by indoors in Europe.