Austria’s UK ambassador on life after Brexit, rubbish diplomacy in Canada and Libya’s intractable conflict explained.
A summit in Berlin in January pledged to help create the conditions for peace in Libya but has had little success. We asked Anas El Gomati, director of Libya’s Sadeq Institute, to untangle the web of interests in the conflict.
Supports the civil war sparked by Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces, and has operated drones in Libya since 2015 under the guise of counter-terrorism. Fears the spread of democracy since the Arab Spring, particularly in oil-producing states such as Libya.
Backs Libya’s prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj out of economic interest, offering military co-operation in exchange for a redrawing of maritime borders between Turkey and Libya in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean, over which Israel, Greece and Egypt all claim sovereignty.
Hosted the peace talks because it fears a refugee crisis stemming from Libya after it absorbed more than one million refugees, primarily from Syria, between 2015 and 2016.
Entered the conflict not to help either side win but to play kingmaker. Hopes to force Europe into negotiations with Russia to end the war before it sparks a refugee crisis and in exchange to lift EU sanctions over Crimea.
Seen to be growing closer to Russia, it fears the resurgence of Isis in Libya but is also intrigued by Haftar, a dual US-Libyan citizen. Political distractions and Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi controversy have led the US to monitor the situation without taking the lead.
We spoke to Michael Zimmermann, Austria’s ambassador based in London, on the day before the UK officially left the EU. And we started with the simplest of questions.
How do you feel?
The biggest emotions have passed; 2019 was an emotional year but after Boris Johnson’s election victory, this transitioned into an acceptance of reality.
How will Austria’s working relationship with the UK change?
The UK essentially has to build bilateral relationships with 27 countries. In foreign policy it used to be relatively easy, because the big questions would all be discussed together around a table in Brussels. The British now have to build up a massive new administration in order to carry on working normally.
Do you think that there will be a deal between the EU and the UK at the end of this year?
I think so, yes. Anything else would be irresponsible – for both sides. I expect there will be negotiations up until the last minute, so I won’t be making major holiday plans for Christmas 2020. But there should at least be agreement on the core issues to avoid frictions from 2021.
What is the mood of Austrians living in the UK?
Those who have lived here longer will stay; those who have been here a short time will consider their options and the future influx of talented Austrians will be limited. I think that the UK will only come to feel what Brexit really means in four or five years. Until now, London was this global magnet for talent because the UK was seen as open and tolerant. Whether that remains the case in the future is questionable and depends on subjective questions, such as, “Will people have the feeling that they are welcome here?”
How do you defuse an international rubbish crisis? The Canadian government’s environment and border agencies are teaming up to stop illegal rubbish shipments to developing nations. Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte forced the action after withdrawing his ambassador and demanding Canada take back 69 containers of rubbish left in his country for six years.
Stricter regulations around labelling rubbish and greater surveillance of shipping containers are steps in the right direction, says Myra Hird of Queen’s University and principal investigator at Waste Flow, a research project on waste issues. But investment in domestic solutions is needed. “Canada has very few facilities to recycle electronic materials or plastics, so we rely heavily on exporting,” says Hird.