Middle East Features
Europeans watch Gaddafi sceptically at EU-Africa summit
By Christoph Sator Nov 30, 2010, 20:08 GMT
Tripoli - No one need question to whom this week's Africa-EU summit belongs. Host Moamer Gaddafi is everywhere - larger than life.
He appears dressed in business attire on the first billboard visitors see when arriving at Tripoli's airport. In the inner city, Libya's 'revolutionary leader' is pictured in his traditional cloak and in uniform on the sides of buildings.
There's hardly space for pictures of the 80 guests attending the summit, the third of its kind. Only Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a close Gaddafi friend - is granted space in one of the posters, and then only at Gaddafi's side.
Inside the newly constructed conference centre, the Gaddafi show continues. In the hall where representatives of 27 European countries and 54 African countries - representing nearly half the world - have gathered, Gaddafi reigns in person. Part of this might be attributed to the fact that Gaddafi might be the only one who could care less about alphabetical seating.
In his 41st year in office, he has been making a memorable impression.
On the opening day of the summit, Gaddafi requested 5 billion euros (6.5 billion dollars) per year from the European Union, starting immediately, to prevent a wave of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
Otherwise, he warned, the white, Christian continent will become black. His one-hour speech drifted into tirades, but no one left the hall in protest. The Europeans indulged Gaddafi. But no one responded either. The delegates essentially let him speak into the void.
EU representatives agreed upon this tactic ahead of time. After all, it was clear that Gaddafi wanted to use the mega conference in his own country to make a grand appearance.
To many EU countries, the new partnership with the dictator - who had been cut off from the international community for decades until he relinquished his attempts at nuclear weapons - is still unpleasant. But they are dependent on him.
In October the EU signed a migration cooperation agreement with Gaddafi. Fifty million euros are to be spent on measures in Libya, including stricter border controls and better provisions for illegal refugees.
It is estimated that 2 million Africans annually try to get to Europe through Libya. The country has neither an asylum process nor has it signed the Geneva Convention on Refugees. It also has not allowed the UN high commissioner for refugees to operate unhindered.
The unease of the Europeans is being expressed through the absence of some leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While Berlusconi, the biggest Gaddafi backer in the EU, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero are present, Germany is represented by its foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle.
He was one of those who completely ignored Gaddafi's performance Tuesday. Instead, he spoke about an upcoming referendum on the independence of southern Sudan and the question of an African nation getting a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
'It is of our concern that we view Africa as a continent in which we can engage with in a timely manner and with great staying power,' Westerwelle said.
A longer meeting with Gaddafi also didn't materialize. Westerwelle and Gaddafi only exchanged pleasantries in the lobby of the conference building. At the evening banquet of salad, mutton and fruit cocktail, but no alcohol, held on the first floor of the conference centre, the two sat far away from one another.
This actually fit nicely into the German delegation's plan. They would rather assume that the Gaddafi era is tending toward coming to an end, giving others a chance to win influence in Africa. South Africa, Nigeria or Senegal are possible candidates for assuming such a role.
The summit therefore could be one of the last international appearances of the eccentric Libyan leader. One hopeful delegate said it could be Gaddafi's last great show.