Comrades to competitors: France and Italy vie for a slice of Libyan pie

The race for Libya's vast oil wealth is gathering momentum. States who worked together during the NATO airstrikes are now working against each other in the battle to secure lucrative energy contracts.

­Meanwhile, fears are rising that a new regime in Libya could easily slide into corruption.

Half a billion dollars from Italy, and now a whopping $1.5 billion from the UN in unfrozen Libyan assets – on top of $300 million dollars from Turkey. 

As discussions abound about the future of a post-Gaddafi Libya, it is the money that has been talking the loudest.

“Governments have a strong interest in opening up new channels for opening up business again and everybody is racing for this,” says Lucca Galassi, a journalist from PeaceReporter.net. “The French have Total and have other companies like Alcatel, Ariva and even train companies that are operating there.”

Italy’s foreign minister has denied that there is a race on with France to be the first on the ground to restart business in Libya, but the Italians have made clear their eagerness to maintain the extremely close trade ties they enjoyed under the Gaddafi regime.

But as the money begins to flow to help fund the National Transitional Council as it takes power, a big question mark remains over who exactly owns the vast funds.

“Now in Gaddafi's state, which is coming to an end, the borderline between the private wealth of the Gaddafi family and the private wealth of the state were not very clear, so its hard to say how much of this money was a direct emanation of Gaddafi's private wealth and how much of it could be categorized as Libyan assets in general,” says journalist Fabricio Moronta.

The Gaddafi family was often accused of using Libya's riches as their own personal pocket money. Now there are concerns that the unfreezing of Libyan assets without effective monitoring could open the floodgates to new corruption.

“Libya is now a land of opportunities and everybody is trying to, I would say, loot. It is a sort of looting. They are trying to exploit this war as best as they can,” Lucca Galassi.

But with lucrative oil, gas and infrastructure projects to follow as the war-torn country rebuilds, everyone, it seems, wants a slice of the action.

“A war is a moment of opportunities, of making profits. Nowadays a war is indispensable for Western economies, Western industries. You destroy, you rebuild, you destroy, you rebuild. It’s like a vicious circle,” Lucca Galassi says.

And it is not just Italy that has been trying to keep the National Transitional council on side. 

Marinella Correggia, an eco-peace activist who was in Libya earlier this month, says France is already ahead of Italy in the race for oil deals.

“France has spent €160 million on this war but has already contracts with the CNT for $28 billion,” she told RT. “Italy has only contracts for $1.5 billion because maybe it did not do that much [there]. So, always economy is making the wars, and greed is making wars”.

Like it or not, for many Western countries a post-war Libya is going to mean big business.