France, forging a Libya strategy

In recent months, Libya has been several times on the brink of failure, having seen the black flag of DAESH in Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast, and having been exposed to the terrorist threats of both DAESH and al-Qaeda. The agreement, reached after the meeting in Paris hosted by Emmanuel Macron (July 2017), wards off the threat of a never-ending civil conflict that would have seen various factions: Tripoli against Tobruk, Tripolitania against Cyrenaica, Fayez al-Sarraj against Khalifa Haftar. The joint communiqué essentially establishes an armed truce between al-Sarraj and Haftar.

Despite that, the complete pacification of the country has not been reached, although conflicts have been reduced to a lower intensity in terms of clashes and casualties, often of a terrorist array by factions that are not recognized as parts of the agreement. From a political point of view, the agreement has kept the al-Sarraj’s fragile legitimacy at the international level. This is an important element to consider in the overall balance of forces present in the country. The government of Tripoli is still controlling the territory, but the legitimacy reached by Fayez al-Sarraj allows him to counter the alliance between Tobruk’s Parliament and Haftar.

This precarious balance offers today the only prospect of national reconciliation and sustainable stabilization of Libya and it is therefore essential that it holds overtime. The real danger today is represented by the temptation of a party to prevail over the other rather than by the respect of the compromise of future coexistence and power sharing.

Khalifa Haftar can definitely count on strong weapons and important supporters such as Egypt, Russia and France[1]. As for France, Macron’s well-known Europeanism is now being tested: whether he will decide to collaborate with Rome and Brussels in a common and modern approach or to follow French neo-colonial roots.

Just recently, speaking to the French Parliament, the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that Paris had called for a UN Security Council meeting on the treatment of migrants in the North African country and asked for sanctions if the authorities of Tripoli will not take any action on this matter[2]. For the second time in a few days Paris has come back to make its voice be heard with regard to the extreme conditions in which migrants are detained in the Libyan centers. On 20 November, the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs issued a note in which it condemned ‘in the strongest possible terms the inhuman treatment and violence that migrants are subjected to in Libya[3].’ It is the second action that Macron directed in a few months to the modalities of handling the situation in Libya.

The first one took place on 26 July, when Emmanuel Macron had organized the Élysée Palace meeting between the leader of Tripoli government, al-Sarraj, and the chief of the armed forces of Tobruk, Haftar, delivering to the newspapers the draft agreement announcing cease-fire and elections. The most obvious result was that the meeting between al-Sarraj and Haftar served Macron in particular to strengthen his prestige not only on the Libyan issue but also as a leader in the largest area of North Africa and Sahel where Paris has important military, economic and financial interests. Even the road map for the ceasefire, the 2018 elections and the fight against migrants’ trafficking, were presented as a ‘working draft’ and not a finished agreement[4]. Macron played the role of the French grandeur and demonstrated how France can act unilaterally without taking into account existing agreements–for example, Italy’s role as the coordinator for all Libya’s diplomatic actions as agreed both at the European Union and at the UN level, with the approval of the United States. The “Financial Times” considered the unilateral initiative to be a worrying propensity to stand out in an area where caution and cooperation would be most appropriate[5].

Undoubtedly, Libya remains an important chessboard of international relations for many different reasons: as a possible platform for terrorist infiltration, most notably after the defeat of DAESH and the subsequent diaspora of foreign fighters; as a backdrop for anyone who cultivates dreams of destabilization of neighboring Arab countries; as a land of conquest of energy concessions much sought after by many of our European partners as well.

Italy has adopted a plan of intervention that simultaneously allows the control of traffic and aims at dismantling with it the support of countries bordering the south of Libya, which are closely linked to French policies. The Italian government has respected the timing of Tripoli government, safeguarding its territorial and political integrity, which, however precarious and unstable, is present in Tripoli, and is recognized by the UN. On the other side, France is aware that its influence in the region has diminished.

“France no longer has an African policy. […] Africa [has] to be a priority of French economic diplomacy[6].” This is the change of perspective that Emmanuel Macron wanted to convey on the occasion of his trip in West Africa, taking in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Ghana. During his trip, he appealed to European leaders to solve the migrants and refugees crisis once and for all, announcing a Euro-African cooperation. In Abidjan, on 29 and 30 November, it was decided that the time has come to make all the parties involved accountable, pushing public policies in Africa towards greater entrepreneurship. The new External Investment Plan focuses on private sector investments in Africa’s economic interests, putting 4.1 billion Euros on the plate[7]. The objective is clear: to fight poverty and to favor development with implications such as the containment of migrations, the opening of new markets and the growth of local businesses, as well as of European ones.

At the French Ambassadors’ Annual Conference at the end of August, the French President Emmanuel Macron already formalized the creation of the ‘Presidential Council for Africa,’ a new institutional body in charge of dialogue with the president on African politics. The Council was the very first step towards renewing the partnership between France and Africa that Macron had anticipated during the electoral campaign.

With the creation of the Presidential Council for Africa, expectations have increased with regard to a revival of bilateral economic and trade relations and African development. On the one hand, Emmanuel Macron wants to make Africa an integral part of the project of putting France back in brand. This is how the French President, with the majority of African businessmen, hopes to bring France back to the top of the African economic scene, where Paris is increasingly challenged by China and other emerging Asian countries. On the other hand, the goal is to boost local employment and growth, more as a strategy for preventing migratory and security crises and for the effective emancipation of former colonies from France’s control and financial policies.


Pilar Buzzetti

Master’s degree in Government and Policies (LUISS “Guido Carli”)



Notes and references

[1] Anon. (2017, June 18). Why UAE and Egypt support Haftar in Benghazi. Libya prospect. Retrieved from

[2] Anon. (2017, November 22). France on Wednesday called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council over slave-trading in Libya as President Emmanuel Macron blasted the auctioning of Africans as a crime against humanity. France 24. Retrieved from

[3] Anon. (2017, November 20). Libya-Human trafficking. France Diplomatie. Retrieved from

[4] Wintour, P., & Stephen, C. (2017, July 25). Libyan rival leaders agree to ceasefire after Macron-hosted talks. The Guardian. Retrieved from

[5] Stothard, M., & Politi, J. (2017, July 25). Macron’s Libya summit will make peace harder to reach, say critics. The Financial Times. Retrieved from

[6] Smith, A. (2017, November 28). France’s Macron outlines new approach to African policy. BBC. Retrieved from

[7] Samuel, H., & Squires, N. (2017, November 30). Emmanuel Macron announces EU plan to launch concrete military action to rescue African migrants enslaved in Libya. The Telegraph. Retrieved from