Operation Irini: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the Sigonella Naval Air Station Airport
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My visit comes at a very important moment for the Operation Irini. One year has passed since we launched this operation last March. The launching of operation Irini coincided with the international community's decision to step up its support for peace and stability in Libya. Hence the name Irini, which means peace as a crucial way to look for peace and to lower the potential for conflict escalation by reducing the flow of arms and making the arms embargo effective.
I am really proud that the European Union is able to contribute to these efforts through you, the men and women of Operation Irini. Here we stand, one year later, when peace in Libya is becoming closer to reality. A ceasefire agreement is in place, a political process is underway, elections are scheduled for the end of the year, an interim government had just sworn into office.
The hopes are high, this positive momentum is the result of a combination of forces - forces and factors. Operation Irini is only one element of a more complex and bigger picture, but certainly this operation has made an important contribution. It has played its role on the side of international legality.
Let me recall how the European Union came to launch the Operation in which you are serving. It was at the Berlin conference on Libya, January 2020. The implementation of the United Nations arms embargo was recognised as a failure and as a priority. As long as weapons are flowing into a conflict, it is hard to bring out peace. And then the European Union took the decision to act.
Less than five weeks later, on February 17, we reached a political agreement to launch a new operation to contribute to the implementation of the United Nations arms embargo building on Operation Sophia’s achievement in this area - because you are the successors of Operation Sophia.
Together with the European Union Member States, we carried out the necessary planning in just six weeks. At the end, the European Union was able to launch this operation at the end of March. Despite the difficulties linked to a pandemic which one year ago was just starting and nobody could have expected that one year later it was still there.
Since then, the operation has proved to be a unique and impartial instrument to support the implementation of the United Nations arms embargo and to support the peace process. There is only one actor carrying out this task. This is you, this is us. We can be criticised by not doing enough, but we do a lot. And, in any case, we are the only ones acting.
One year later, it is fair to say that Operation Irini has achieved remarkable results. Irini’s boats and air assets have patrolled the Central Mediterranean conducting more than 2,300 hailings, close to 100 friendly approaches and nine - counting the one that has been taking place this morning- inspections. It has seized one illegal cargo and prevented an illegal export of fuel.
The operation does not only operate at sea. In Brussels, people talk about Irini as a navy operation. It is a navy operation, but not only a navy operation. Here they are, the air assets that also work monitoring violations occurring on land by air.
In the last year, it has monitored 16 Libyan ports and oil facilities, 25 airports, landing strips, as well as 194 flights, possibly carrying military-related cargoes.
To conduct its surveillance work, Irini was able to rely on information provided by the European Union Satellite Centre from Madrid, demonstrating the important strategic added value of its capabilities for the European security.
Operation Irini is not only delivering on its task of securing the Central Mediterranean, but also delivering to the United Nations, reporting on all the cases it has been observing and following up.
It has shared more than 20 confidential reports with a panel of United Nations experts covering violations of the arms embargo on both sides of the conflict in Libya, putting the spotlight on illegal trafficking and raising the stakes for spoilers. Just this week, the panel of experts of the United Nations has published an extensive report calling out all those who have been violating the arms embargo and this was possible thanks to the contribution of Operation Irini. Thanks to your contribution.
Let me stress that all these activities have been carried out in full impartiality. Suddenly we are being criticised about being partial, that is not true. We carry our operation with full impartiality, without favouring neither of the belligerent parties. The impartiality and legitimacy of Operation Irini are clearly established. We operate within the framework of the United Nations Security Council resolutions. We are the arm of the international community. And now that the Libyans have taken decisive steps on the road to peace, our continued presence in the central Mediterranean is essential. More than ever, we have to use this momentum in order to make peace in Libya.
That is why we will continue to monitor closely suspect vessels regardless of their provenance, and we will continue to conduct inspections in accordance with the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. By doing so, we, you will contribute more broadly to maritime security in the area.
This is part of a broader effort of the European Union to act as a maritime security provider in areas of key strategic interest for Europe. This is what we do also with Operation Atalanta off the coast of Somalia or in the Gulf of Guinea with a coordinated maritime presence. As Maritime spaces become a terrain for greater geopolitical competition, this is [more] crucial than ever.
Allow me to continue saying that next week Operation Irini’s mandate will be renewed for a further two years. This will send a strong signal of the commitment of the European Union to sustain our engagement in Libya, and we are ready to do more to help to end the conflict, to further support the United Nations led peace process, including maybe the implementation of the ceasefire with people on the ground and the preparation of the upcoming elections. With a new government just sworn in last Monday, we have an opportunity to re-engage, including through Irini and with the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy.
Yes, the renewal of Irini’s mandate is also a way to recognise all the good work that you have been carrying out. In all my official visits and meetings where Libya is discussed the importance of Irini's role is always underlined. I want to tell it to you in order to praise your work. I want to thank Admiral Agostini and all of you at all levels of commandment for your work and dedication. Without it, without you, we would not be where we stay today.
I also want to take the opportunity to thank all the 24 European Union Member States who are contributing to these operations, some more than others, but this is a common endeavour. And for their continued support, and most particularly, I want to highlight Italy’s valued contribution. I am happy to be in Sicily to say that Italy not only hosts the operational headquarters that I visited yesterday in Rome, but also provides a significant share of the operations’ personnel, naval and aerial assets. Grazie all’Italia, per il suo contributo decisivo.
We have tackled many challenges and yet many others will come. But I am sure that Operation Irini will continue to fulfil its mandate with the highest degree of professionalism that you have been showing. So thank you, thank you to all of you for your commitment, your daily work. You can be proud that you are contributing not only to peace and stability in Libya, in our neighbourhood, but indeed also to the security of Europe and all our citizens. This is, for me, a wonderful day. I am very proud of being here. I am very happy of having launch Operation Irini. I am very thankful for your effort.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-203363