John Dalli, EU commissioner for health and consumer protection, was forced to make a public apology after suggesting that Europe should refrain from “interfering” in the unfolding Libyan crisis, breaking ranks with the official line adopted by his own administration.
I don’t think I or anyone else has the right to interfere with Colonel Gaddafi’s position,” said Dalli, a former foreign minister of Malta, according to reports published in the Maltese press on Friday (4 March).
“The media is treating this almost as a reality show and sometimes I doubt whether some of the images we see are stage-managed,” he said when asked about Libya during a breakfast meeting on EU competitiveness organised by the Malta Business Bureau.
Dalli’s statement came as an embarrassment for the European Commission ahead of a meeting of EU leaders this week that will consider backing the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya in an attempt to prevent a full-blown civil war in the North African country.
Two days previously, Dalli’s own boss, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, had made a vibrant appeal in support of the Libyan insurrection. “I want to specifically say this to the young Arabs that are now fighting for freedom and democracy: ‘We are on your side’,” Barroso said emphatically on Wednesday (2 March).
Commissioner Dalli’s apparent break from the Commission line was quickly linked to the business ties he has had with Libya in the past. According to a declaration of interests published on the Commission’s website, Dalli owns a house in Tripoli and was director of a glass manufacturing company in Libya.
“I regret if any of the remarks I made on Friday have conveyed the false impression that I do not support the position communicated by President Barroso on the situation in Libya on Wednesday 2 March,” Dalli said in a statement released on Sunday.
“Some of my remarks were interpreted out of context and considered to be in contradiction with the president’s statements. I am of course fully behind the position expressed by the president on behalf of the Commission.”
“The main point I was making regarding Mr Ghaddafi in my personal remarks, strongly condemning any violence, was that Mr Ghaddafi must follow the will of his people.”
Meanwhile, the EU has sent a technical fact-finding team to Libya in order to assess humanitarian needs on the ground ahead of Friday’s meeting of EU leaders. “Its aim will be to assess humanitarian and evacuation efforts on the ground in Libya to make an appraisal of what may be needed in terms of additional support,” EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.