Europe Pressured To Do More To Help Libya

European powers played a key role in helping Libyan rebels defeat Moammar Gadhafi through the NATO bombing campaign. But now EU policy makers face a huge test in helping Libya secure the peace with humanitarian aid, technical and logistical support.

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The European nations that helped to pry Moammar Gadhafi out of power now face the challenge of helping his successors, if they can. The French and British governments are hosting a Friends of Libya meeting in Paris today. They will discuss ways to help Libyans recover from dictatorship and from civil war.

One key question is how quickly European governments will turn over billions of dollars in Libyan assets to the new government.

NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: For many Europeans outside the administrative bubble of the European Union, helping rebuild Libya may be a tough sell these days. People are far more concerned with big problems here at home, including a sovereign debt crisis that threatens to plunge the region into a second recession.

Ms. KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA (Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response): Understandably, people tend to say let's worry about ourselves. And yet Europeans so far have been very generous. It is in our backyard, this is our neighbor. We have a responsibility.

WESTERVELT: That's Kristalina Georgieva, the E.U. Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. So far, the E.U. and member states have spent more than 150 million euros for Libya. They're the largest humanitarian donor in the crisis. Georgieva says a small, quick reaction team is now on the ground in Tripoli. They're fast-tracking aid grants, tapping into pre-placed supplies and assessing need. The priorities: water, health care, sanitation, and security, especially for third country nationals.

Ms. GEORGIEVA: Any place access would open up, we will be pre-positioned with partners to get help to people, to open up humanitarian hubs.

WESTERVELT: But of course there could be months of violence still ahead for Libya. And there's mutual wariness by both the Western powers and the rebels about having any substantial number of foreign boots on Libyan soil.

But Ian Lesser, director of the German Marshall Fund's Trans-Atlantic Center in Brussels, says the door seems open for more subtle ways for the West to help Libya meet its vital institution-building needs.

Mr. IAN LESSER (German Marshall Fund): Demining, for example. Security sector reform. How do you remake a security establishment - not just the military but also the security services, internal security service in Libya, in ways that are not as abusive? Defense cooperation, training, equipment - all of these things are areas where the West can help and may not require large numbers of people on the ground.

WESTERVELT: But others wonder whether the E.U. is really up to the task. Some have criticized its foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, saying the E.U.'s response to the Arab Spring revolts has been too slow, lacking in concrete help, and heavy on lofty rhetoric. That's the view of Giles Merritt, who directs the Brussels think tank Security and Defense Agenda.

Mr. GILES MERRITT (Security and Defense Agenda): And the E.U., now it is boasting that it's got a security and defense arm. About time it showed it.

WESTERVELT: Merritt says the E.U. now has a chance to redeem itself, with a robust and quick helping hand for Libya that includes technical and political assistance reforming the security services, and aid building the institutional underpinnings for democracy.

Mr. MERRITT: This is a real opportunity for Ashton to show her mettle and for the E.U. to get its act together and go to the Arab world and say, look, we have two things to offer. One is economic development. The other is a security framework, which is also a political framework, that give a sense of stability to these new governments. Because it's clear that the Arab League isn't up to the job.

WESTERVELT: Here on the well-swept streets of Brussels, NATO officials this week reiterated that once their military operation is done, they won't be involved in nation-building. But all eyes will be on the European Union to see if its leaders can match their reconstruction rhetoric with tangible results on the ground in Libya, and whether they can be as committed to rebuilding that country as they were to enforcing the U.N. resolution with an air war.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Brussels.

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