North Africa and the Sahel should be the EU’s #1 priority

This post originally appeared on The FRIDE Blog‘s IDEA of the Week section:

The European Foreign Affairs Council approved a “European Union Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel” almost a year ago, recognising the importance of the region for the EU. During recent months however, violence in Syria and the build-up of tension between Iran and Israel have moved the EU’s attention to this corner of the Middle East. The region’s geo-strategic importance justifies the EU’s attention, but not at the price of neglecting the North African “chapter” of the Arab spring. In fact, events such as last week’s controversial declaration of semi-autonomy for the Eastern Libyan province of Cyrenaica reminds us that this should be considered as the EU’s external action top priority.

As previous experiences have shown, military intervention and the fall of a regime is not the end, but the beginning. The unraveling of the post-Qadhafi Libya could have important consequences for the country, and the region. Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria could all suffer if Libya were to implode. And further South, some consequences of Qhadafi’s fall are already visible: the Tuareg rebellion that grips the North of Mali, and has displaced over 170,000 people, is led by fighters returned after the fall of Bani Walid. And the region’s terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) hope to benefit from the growing insecurity. All of this against the backdrop of a looming food crisis that could affect as many as 13 million people in the region.

The EU is already committed at various levels – including the contribution of €95 million in humanitarian aid. But the rapidly deteriorating situation, its potential impact on the security scenario and its proximity to Europe should make the North African/Sahel region the foremost external policy priority for European leaders.

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