French Initiative to Lift Lebanon Out of Its Political Crisis is Still in Place

Published December 30th, 2020 - 10:26 GMT
In this file photo taken on December 14, 2020 French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), at its headquarters in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron, who had tested positive for Covid-19 on December 17, "is no longer presenting any symptoms" and his isolation of seven days can therefore stop, the Elysee Palace said in a statement on December 24, 2020. MARTIN BUREAU / POOL / AFP
In this file photo taken on December 14, 2020 French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), at its headquarters in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron, who had tested positive for Covid-19 on December 17, "is no longer presenting any symptoms" and his isolation of seven days can therefore stop, the Elysee Palace said in a statement on December 24, 2020. MARTIN BUREAU / POOL / AFP
Highlights
Kervran reiterated France’s call for the formation of a new government as an essential condition to implement the required reforms in order to acquire international aid, particularly through the CEDRE conference.

A French initiative designed to lift Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crunch in decades is still in place and France will not leave the crises-ridden country alone, a senior French official said Tuesday, reasserting Paris’ continued role in rescuing the former French protectorate from multiple crises.

MP Loic Kervran, head of the Lebanese-French Friendship Committee in the French National Assembly, made the remarks after a meeting with President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace.

The stalled French initiative, the Cabinet formation deadlock and Lebanese-French relations were among major topics discussed during the meeting, the state-run National News Agency reported.

After congratulating Aoun on the Christmas and New Year holidays, Kervran stressed that France was committed to “stand by Lebanon’s side in the difficult circumstances through which it is passing, especially following the Beirut Port explosion and the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.”

In what appeared to be a response to Lebanese skeptics who have declared dead the French initiative launched by French President Emmanuel Macron during his second visit to Beirut on Sept. 1, Kervran told reporters at Baabda Palace: “The French initiative is still in place. France will not leave Lebanon in these circumstances. President Emmanuel Macron is committed to his promises toward Lebanon.”

He added that Macron’s commitment to Lebanon was translated in the two visits he made to Beirut, the first visit was two days after the deadly Aug. 4 explosion that devastated Beirut Port and left half of the capital in ruins, and the second was on Sept. 1, as well as in the international video conference to which he invited heads of state aimed at drumming up financial support for Lebanon.

The French MP said Lebanon received $280 million in humanitarian aid from the conference that was organized by France and the United Nations early this month. It was the second conference organized by Macron in support of Lebanon since the port disaster.

Kervran reiterated France’s call for the formation of a new government as an essential condition to implement the required reforms in order to acquire international aid, particularly through the CEDRE conference.

France, which has emerged as the main power broker in Lebanon since the port explosion, has been leading diplomatic efforts for almost two years to persuade Lebanon to push through reforms and secure foreign aid needed to offset a financial meltdown.

France hosted in 2018 the CEDRE conference, where international donors pledged over $11 billion in grants and soft loans to bolster Lebanon’s ailing economy and finance key infrastructure projects in Lebanon. However, the release of the promised aid was contingent on the implementation of a string of key and structural economic and fiscal reforms in Lebanon.

Among other things, the French blueprint, presented by Macron to Lebanon’s political leaders on Sept. 1, calls for the quick formation of “a government with a mission” to implement a series of key reforms, including fighting endemic corruption, conducting a complete forensic audit in the Central Bank’s accounts, reforming the ailing electricity sector, which drains the cash-strapped state around $2 billion in annual subsidies, and restarting negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.

Lebanon began talks with the IMF on a $10 billion bailout package in May, but the negotiations have been stalled by a dispute between different interest groups representing Lebanese banks and the government over the size of the Central Bank’s losses.

The French MP’s remarks come as the stalled Cabinet formation process has been put on hold until the New Year after Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s two meetings last week with Aoun failed to make any breakthrough in the impasse that has left Lebanon without a fully functioning government for more than four months. Hariri left Beirut over the weekend to spend the New Year's holiday with his family abroad, a clear indication that nothing would happen in the government formation efforts before the start of the next year.

Hopes for breaking the Cabinet deadlock were pinned on Macron’s third visit to Lebanon, originally scheduled for Dec. 22-23, but the trip was canceled after the French president tested positive for COVID-19.

Kerveran said Macron still had the will and wish to visit Lebanon again. “A new date for [Macron’s] visit will be set according to circumstances,” he said.

Macron had planned to press Lebanese political leaders to agree on the rapid formation of a new government to enact urgent reforms needed for unlocking promised foreign aid to Lebanon.

United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis criticized Lebanon’s political leaders for failing to agree on the swift formation of a new government to salvage the country’s crumbling economy.

“The economy and financial, banking system is in shambles, social peace starts to crumble down, security incidents on the rise, the edifice of Lebanon is shaking in its fundaments. And political leaders seem to wait for Biden. But this is Lebanon, not the USA,” Kubis wrote on his twitter account Monday. He was referring to some Lebanese politicians who have ruled out the possibility of a new government being formed before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office at the White House on Jan. 20.

Hariri’s attempts to form a proposed 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to carry out reforms have been stymied by rival factions’ horse-trading over key ministerial seats, as well as lingering rifts with Aoun over the naming of Christian ministers and over who controls three sovereign ministries that deal with security: The Defense, Interior and Justice. In addition to rejecting granting veto power to any party in the next government, Hariri was also reported to have opposed allotting the Interior and Justice ministries to Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement headed by MP Gebran Bassil.

This article has been adapted from its original source.


Copyright © 2021, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

You may also like

Subscribe

Sign up to our newsletter for exclusive updates and enhanced content