Gaddafi’s Beau Geste

Fair enough. We all knew Colonel Muammar Gaddafi did not abide by the idealized image (and conduct) of a Platonic Philosopher-Ruler. We all feared for that UN declaration chart, as he threatened to tear it to pieces at the UN meeting last September and we all heard his voice rambling for over one and a half hours, menacing the UN Security Council and hailing President Obama as a son of Africa. So we should not be surprised by the news of his son Hannibal’s arrest in Switzerland, 2008, for having ill-treated his domestic staff. What should strike us most is the Colonel’s reaction and the Swiss response, which may lead to questions regarding the conduct of the two countries and the lack of unity of action within the EU.

Here are a few facts: Following Hannibal’s arrest, Colonel Gaddafi arrested two Swiss citizens, Max Göldi and Rachid Hamdani, residing in Libya. Whilst the latter left for Tunisia last Monday, Max Göldi had to leave the Swiss embassy where he had found hospitality last week and return to jail after Libyan police forces threatened to assault the building. What seems to angered Gaddafi’s was Switzerland implementing a ban over 180 Libyan officers from her territory. The case may not have blown up had Gaddafi not decided to reply by putting a ban himself on all European citizens living in Libyan territory. Hence the diplomatic case of the two Swiss men and the EU’s bitterness, which held Berna responsible for having extended Gaddafi’s reprisal to all Schengen members. While Göldi did much to solve the diplomatic impasse, the case casts doubts upon the effectiveness of the EU.

Switzerland shares economic links with most of the 27 EU members through the Schengen treaty. The tough decision to introduce a blacklist had seen the diplomatic crisis being passed on to the EU. Whilst the nuisance of some European MPs may have been justifiable, it must be noted that the EU had herself made large usage of her economic councils to go against some features of Swiss isolation, as to enrich the Union to much of Switzerland’s detriment. It was only logical that the latter ought to use, now that she had the chance, an organ which binds all countries to demand action against Colonel Gaddafi’s threats.

Facts proved Swiss hopes to be a mere blunder. The EU turned her back on the Confederation and tried to accommodate Libyan requests. Whilst Switzerland received a façade of support from some EU members, self interests tied to business shifted Italian, German and Spanish attention in favour of Gaddafi’s cause. True: Switzerland, not being an EU member, should have been more far-sighted and expected the cold reaction. But it is also evident that the response of a few major powers will boost the ego of Colonel Gaddafi, freer than ever to put forward his eccentricity and megalomania.


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