Lebanon risks wasting the international support that peaked at the CEDRE conference if there is further delay in forming a government, France’s ambassador to Lebanon warned Friday.
Lebanon’s economy and infrastructure have been in crisis for years, a situation exacerbated by the Syrian conflict and resulting influx of refugees. The CEDRE conference, held in Paris in April, saw 50 countries and organizations pledge over $11 billion in soft loans to finance investment and infrastructure projects in Lebanon. But the funds’ disbursement is contingent on a series of economic reforms Lebanon committed to, which have been put on hold amid a stalled government formation process, now in its seventh month.
“We deeply regret that our Lebanese friends are not able to agree on a government,” Ambassador Bruno Foucher said at a news conference held on the French frigate Aconit, in Lebanon for three days for exercises with the Lebanese Army.
“The lack of a government in Lebanon risks losing this momentum in the international community,” Foucher added, noting as well that investors interested in the projects proposed in Lebanon’s Capital Investment Plan will not hesitate to look for opportunities elsewhere.
“It’s a strong message that I’m putting forward, but without an effective government ... we cannot start working on these projects.”
This was echoed by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s economic adviser Nadim Munla at a separate news conference Friday, saying that while some preparations for the projects can move forward without a Cabinet, the real work cannot begin until the government is formed.
France is not the first to highlight the risk of not jumping on the opportunities presented by CEDRE, the Rome II conference for Lebanon’s security apparatuses and the Brussels conference that saw humanitarian aid pledged to support Lebanon all held in the first half of this year before the May parliamentary elections. The World Bank has also warned that Lebanon could lose loans if a prolonged political deadlock means they are not used.
“It would be truly unfortunate for Lebanon, having gained such solidarity, to lose the interest of this solidarity by being incapable of establishing a government,” Foucher said. “There are other countries that may need international assistance.”
The ambassador emphasized, however, that there was no deadline set for reforms to be implemented but that “It’s easy to see that seven months without a government is time wasted.”
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