Feature

Libya: Europe divvies up the goods

France, Great Britain, and Italy are dividing the spoils of war, arguing among themselves while keeping a wary eye on China.

Now that the Libyan war is almost over, it’s time to divide the spoils, said Paolo Baroni in the Turin, Italy, La Stampa. And France is already hogging “the biggest slice of the pie.” France was the driving force behind the NATO intervention, with Britain close behind it. So it’s no surprise that French oil giant Total and Britain’s BP are “hitting the ground running,” drawing on their countries’ diplomatic contacts with the rebels to negotiate oil deals with the incoming regime. Italy, by contrast, had to be dragged into the conflict because of its ties with Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime. As punishment for Italy’s former favored status, Italian firms are now being denied access to the “billions of euros worth of reconstruction business.” Somebody needs to help the Libyans rebuild “roads, ports, industrial plants, whole cities.” Apparently, it won’t be us.

Italy has only itself to blame, said Philippe Ridet in the Paris Le Monde. Libya only recently settled its outstanding issues with Italy, its former colonial master, in a 2008 friendship treaty signed by good buddies Qaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. That treaty, which allowed for “lucrative contracts” for scores of Italian firms, made Italy into Libya’s leading trade partner. All that could be in jeopardy under a post-Qaddafi regime—and the Italians blame France. The Italian press is full of “hysterical” articles accusing French President Nicolas Sarkozy of being motivated only by greed and a “thirst for grandeur.” The Italians are afraid that they might lose influence in Libya, so they are looking for a convenient scapegoat.

Italy needn’t worry, said Romeo Regenass in the Zurich Tages-Anzeiger. Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the Libyan Transitional National Council, may have met first and longest with Sarkozy, but he also stopped in Italy to talk with Berlusconi. Apparently the new regime does want to “maintain the traditionally strong political and economic relations with Italy.” But there’s another rival to battle for the Libyan contracts: China. Some people argue that the Libyans will shun China because it abstained from the U.N. vote authorizing the use of force against Qaddafi. But the fledgling government needs nothing so much as cash—”so the fat wallets of Chinese might trump political reservations in the end.”

China does indeed have a role to play—but it won’t be as crass as all that, said Wang Haiyun in the Shanghai Dongfang Zaobao. The European powers cynically expect that because they have “conquered” Libya they can now “reap the benefits.” They are already pressuring the new government to favor them in bidding for oil and gas projects. Such an approach will surely “lead to resentment” and ultimately backfire. China can distinguish itself by “upholding justice and supporting the new government” of Libya. “At the same time, we should wield influence as a major country and do more work in promoting national reconciliation.” The Libyans need us, and we won’t fail them.

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