BEIRUT: Josep Borrell, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, has criticized Lebanese officials and conveyed a “severe” message for “not forming the government after nine months of the resignation of Hassan Diab’s government and nomination of Saad Hariri as prime minister-designate.”
Borrell, who is also vice president of the European Commission, said that “the Lebanese crisis is not related to surrounding conditions, nor to war in Syria, but to the political class, which bears responsibility.”
The European official’s statement came after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Saturday at the Presidential Palace. It was the first of a set of meetings that will include the speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Before Borrell’s arrival to Beirut, news spread that the EU intends to impose sanctions on Lebanese officials responsible for obstructing the formation of the government.
The news was based on a proposal by France, which launched an initiative last September to quickly form a rescue government to stop financial collapse in the country. However, the initiative faced significant obstacles.
Borrell stressed that the “crisis in Lebanon is locally made, and its impact is huge on the Lebanese people, for unemployment rose to 40 percent, and more than 50 percent of the Lebanese live below the poverty line. These are dramatic figures, and the Lebanese presidents and leaders should bear responsibility and form the government without delay, in addition to implementing the necessary reforms.”
The European official said that “only an immediate agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will save Lebanon from a financial collapse, and there is no time to waste.”
He addressed politicians, saying: “You are on the verge of a full financial collapse.”
Borrell said that “the caretaker government cannot sign an agreement with the IMF, but it can lay the ground for the reforms much required by the international community. Financial and economic aid is usually given to the governments. However, we are willing to give aid directly to civil society.”
Borrell said: “The European Union had provided €330 million ($392.7 million) in aid for Lebanon during 2020. This is equivalent to €1 million per day. And we have set a framework of cooperation with the United Nations to provide aid directly to the Lebanese people.”
“We have various ways and tools to provide aid to the Lebanese government, and we are ready to mobilize them right upon sensing a tangible progress in the necessary reform process,” he said.
Borrell commented on “the proposal of some states to take measures against the ones obstructing the formation of the government,” and declared that the “Council of the European Union is considering many options including sanctions.”
“We prefer not to revert to these measures and we hope that we would not be obliged to do so, but this depends on the Lebanese leadership,” he said.
“The sanctions would mobilize politicians to move forward, and the issue is being considered. I really hope that there would be no need for implementing sanctions. The sanctions path is long and requires good information to determine who is obstructing and who is not.”
During the meeting with Borrell, Aoun called for “the returning of the Syrian refugees back to their country, as the situation has stabilized in most Syrian territories, and Lebanon is no longer capable of bearing the impact of this displacement.”
Borrell responded in front of the journalists by saying: “We are ready to provide more support to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and other countries that host refugees. And we are confident that the Lebanese authorities would not revert to the forced return of refugees to their country.”
“The economic crisis in Lebanon is due to mismanagement and is not directly linked to the refugees’ issue,” he said.
He insisted that the upcoming parliamentary elections should be held on time and should not be postponed: “We are ready to send a monitoring team ... to ensure that the elections will be fair.”
Borrell said that he will meet civil society activists to hear their opinion on the current situation, and discuss ways to support their efforts.
The European official asked the “Lebanese authorities to investigate the explosion of the Port of Beirut, hoping that it would lead to the awaited results after nearly one year of the incident.” According to the presidential media office, Aoun had asked Borrell for “European assistance to recover the financial assets which were smuggled out of Lebanon to European banks.”