Maltese EU commissioner goes way off script on Libya

In a post yesterday, I noted that Malta’s geographic proximity to Libya had given it a central role in the international response to the ongoing crisis — a somewhat awkward position for an EU member that nonetheless has long-standing political and commercial ties to its southern neighbor. This was highlighted vividly today by comments made ...

GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images

In a post yesterday, I noted that Malta's geographic proximity to Libya had given it a central role in the international response to the ongoing crisis -- a somewhat awkward position for an EU member that nonetheless has long-standing political and commercial ties to its southern neighbor. This was highlighted vividly today by comments made by EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, a former Maltese cabinet minister. Dalli didn't quite voice support for Qaddafi, but certainly gave him the benefit of the doubt and came awfully close to suggesting that the demonstrations have been staged by outside forces:

Speaking to press at an event organised by the Malta Business Bureau on Friday (5 March) morning in Malta, the EU health commissioner, who has a long history of commercial links with Libya, said he "didn't think [he] had the right, or anyone else, to make a statement on whether he [Gaddafi] should step down."

He added: "I think Gaddafi should make his own decisions. He has the assessment of the people, as he has said on TV.… I think Gaddafi has made the first attempt towards conciliation."

In a post yesterday, I noted that Malta’s geographic proximity to Libya had given it a central role in the international response to the ongoing crisis — a somewhat awkward position for an EU member that nonetheless has long-standing political and commercial ties to its southern neighbor. This was highlighted vividly today by comments made by EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, a former Maltese cabinet minister. Dalli didn’t quite voice support for Qaddafi, but certainly gave him the benefit of the doubt and came awfully close to suggesting that the demonstrations have been staged by outside forces:

Speaking to press at an event organised by the Malta Business Bureau on Friday (5 March) morning in Malta, the EU health commissioner, who has a long history of commercial links with Libya, said he "didn’t think [he] had the right, or anyone else, to make a statement on whether he [Gaddafi] should step down."

He added: "I think Gaddafi should make his own decisions. He has the assessment of the people, as he has said on TV.… I think Gaddafi has made the first attempt towards conciliation."

Mr Dalli said he is "in no way" a defender of Gaddafi and condemned the violence in Libya. But he then repeated the Libyan leader’s own line that outside forces are manipulating media coverage of protests.

"The US admitted that they have lost the race for information in Libya – this, and the way information is getting out, is problematic," he said. "Sometimes doubt creeps into one’s head when seeing people speaking perfect English and hoisted up by a group of people made to look like a crowd. I wonder if they might be shots ‘created’ for journalists."

Dalli’s comments are not all that surprising — he used to run a consulting firm which specialized in helping Maltese companies set up shop in Libya — but they differ sharply from the EU’s official line and won’t be welcomed by his boss, EU President José Manuel Barroso, or by EU foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton. Then again, when coordinating a common foreign policy for 27 countries, not everyone is going to be on the same page.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tags: EU, Libya

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