EU agrees Mediterranean naval mission to tackle people smugglers

Updated: 00:00 GMT, Jan 1, 1970 | Published: 04:55 GMT, May 19, 2015 |

European Union foreign ministers agreed yesterday (Monday) to set up a naval mission in the Mediterranean to target gangs smuggling people from lawless Libya to Europe, the first step to set up a military operation that would require a resolution from the United nations Security Council to be fully operational.

The EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said the decision taken at a meeting of foreign and defence ministers in Brussels would “disrupt the business model of smugglers and traffickers networks in Mediterranean”.

The European Union ultimately wants to capture smugglers and destroy their boats off the Libyan coast to help tackle the rising number of migrants fleeing war and poverty in North Africa, but many EU countries want U.N. authorization to act.

Some 51,000 migrants have entered Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year, with 30,500 coming via Italy. About 1,800 have drowned in the attempt, the U.N. refugee agency says.

Mogherini flew to New York this month to seek support for a draft resolution by Britain, France, Lithuania and Spain under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows the use of force to restore international peace and security.

Without U.N. authorization, the EU’s naval mission will not have the mandate to intervene in Libyan territorial waters and onshore in Libya to seize vessels. But EU diplomats say that the EU can start using ships and helicopters in the high seas to gather intelligence about people smugglers.

Austria said it would oppose the mission if it did not have a U.N. mandate.