Minister urges Lebanon to begin reforms to confront challenges ahead

Lebanon – Statement to the press by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at the Collège du Carmel Saint Joseph

Beirut, 24 July 2020

I’m coming to the end of my visit to Lebanon. I came here with two messages.

Firstly a message about a requirement for stringency, because this country, it has to be said, is on the brink of ruin. If efforts aren’t made, the country risks drifting off course. Everyone knows which road must be taken. There are paths to recovery. France is ready to support them, provided the political authorities take the decisions for this. I stand by this message which I conveyed yesterday to the President, Prime Minister and President of the Lebanese National Assembly.

I also conveyed a message of solidarity with the Lebanese people. I came to talk about this solidarity here only this morning. Solidarity which is reflected in direct aid to the whole Lebanese education system and particularly the French and Francophone education system, which is extremely important for this country because the country’s strength, what brings hope, is education, the thirst for learning and the capacity to be enriched by teaching. It’s this strength which, in my view, will lead Lebanon towards a new future. I return confident of having conveyed these messages, confident also that there will be the essential awareness.

Q. – Yesterday you supported Patriarch Rai’s call for Lebanon’s neutrality. Did you say that there’s no sovereignty without neutrality? Do you think this neutrality aims to exclude Hezbollah from political life, thus fulfilling the United States’ wish?

THE MINISTER – I met the Patriarch yesterday. It seemed an essential visit to me, with him being such a strong figure in the country. I heard what he said. In the end, when he talks about neutrality I believe he’s talking about positive neutrality. Positive neutrality to me means – and this is the message France repeats regularly – the distancing, sovereignty and integrity of Lebanon vis-à-vis the conflicts which exist in the region and the affirmation of the country through its integrity, strength and identity. We wholeheartedly share that message with the Patriarch.

Q. – Do you think this government can save Lebanon from the crisis and is this government Hezbollah’s government?

THE MINISTER – I was keen to meet the country’s institutional representatives only. I told these representatives how France perceives the situation and that it was essential to begin reforms, in three areas in particular.

Firstly, conclude with the IMF, which means carrying out an audit of the central bank and taking the necessary capital control measures.

The second reform concerns electricity. There’s a law dating from 2002 which is worth finally implementing. There’s a need to ensure that the regulatory authority takes the relevant action and that the way the electricity industry is run in this country is modernized and benefits from investment, but the approach first needs to be clarified.

The third reform concerns transparency in public procurement. This is the issue facing all Lebanese people, all Lebanon’s political parties and especially those who are now in charge of the country’s future.

That’s what France requires, and I think I’ve been heard. I heard President Aoun making very powerful statements about his determination to fight corruption relentlessly and I hope all those involved deliver on this./.

Lebanon – Statements by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at his press conference with Mr Nassif Hitti, Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs

Beirut, 23 July 2020

Mon cher Nassif,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m really very pleased to be here with you today. I’ve come to Lebanon for this second visit as Foreign Minister, at the request of President Emmanuel Macron. I’m here, ladies and gentlemen, first of all to say that France stands and will always stand by Lebanon and the Lebanese people. As you know, we have a very special bond with this country. There’s a shared history between us, and this year we’ll also be celebrating the centenary of the proclamation of Greater Lebanon. There are also very strong human ties between us which permeate our two societies.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the name of those ties I’ve also come here to send a message of truth. These are serious times. Lebanon is in a very worrying situation. The economic and financial crisis is raging. It’s having tragic practical consequences for Lebanese people, who are growing poorer by the day.

What we want to avoid is this crisis undermining the model of tolerance and openness on which Lebanon was founded and which is central to its identity. So I’ve come here to signal our determination, France’s determination, to remain alongside the Lebanese people, in particular in these difficult times.

The solutions for the country’s recovery have already been known for a long time. During the CEDRE conference we proposed a “confidence contract” to finance development projects in exchange for the necessary structural reforms. Everyone is aware of the need for change. And this demand for reforms – which I reiterated in Paris last December in the framework of the International Support Group I had convened – is also fully in line with the Lebanese people’s expectations.

Lebanese people strongly expressed their legitimate aspirations through the mass demonstrations begun last October. They took to the streets to show an entire people’s thirst for change and its desire for transparency, for efforts to fight corruption and for better governance. Unfortunately, that call has not yet been heard.

Today it’s urgent and necessary to make a concrete start along the path to reforms. And that’s the message I’ve come to send to all the Lebanese authorities and all the political parties. And the expectations I’m expressing are not merely France’s. They are, first and foremost, the Lebanese people’s, and they’re also those of the whole international community.

I’m thinking in particular of the resumption of negotiations with the IMF, particularly through the actual implementation of the Banque du Liban’s audit. Let’s be under no illusions: there’s no alternative to an IMF programme to enable Lebanon to get over the crisis.

I’m also thinking of electricity sector reform, which is an iconic project. I want to say clearly that what’s been done in this field so far is hardly encouraging.

Finally, I’m thinking of the fight against corruption. And President Aoun spoke to me about it in strong terms this morning. I’m thinking of the fight against corruption; I’m thinking of the fight against smuggling which is crucial to Lebanon’s future. And in the same spirit, the independence of the judiciary and the strengthening of transparency are essential.

France is ready to play a fully active role alongside Lebanon and mobilize all its partners, but serious and credible recovery measures must be implemented to that end. Concrete actions have been expected for too long. And as I said recently to/in the French Senate, “help us to help you!” That, ladies and gentlemen, is the watchword of my visit to Beirut.

So the message I’ve come to send Lebanon is twofold: France’s stringency and expectations regarding the reforms the authorities must implement, and support for the Lebanese people’s concerns. France steadfastly stands by the Lebanese people to enable them to tackle all the challenges they face.

Since the beginning of the health crisis we’ve been coming to Lebanon’s assistance. In particular, our support has taken the form of medical equipment deliveries. These assistance measures have benefited a limited number of countries, but we’ve directed them towards Lebanon as a priority. In addition to this support in the form of equipment, there’s been financial support in the health field.

France is also taking humanitarian action targeted at the most vulnerable populations. Our direct humanitarian support this year will amount to €50 million. We’re mainly supporting basic public services, particularly health systems. But it’s first and foremost up to the Lebanese authorities to put in place social safety nets, which Nassif has just talked about – they’re currently non-existent – and provide Lebanese people with public services and infrastructure.

I also came here, ladies and gentlemen, to signal France’s support for young Lebanese people and the education sector. The consequences of the pandemic have been terrible for the million schoolchildren in Lebanon who, like many young people all over the world, have been deprived of lessons for several months.

This crisis is also a crisis for French-speaking and French schools, because France and Lebanon share an extraordinarily rich history in this area. Sixty-one thousand children study in the 52 French schools throughout Lebanon, in addition to the 300 French-speaking Christian schools which cater for 190,000 children of every faith. Amid the crisis, we’ve been totally mobilized, at the French President’s request. The emergency plan for French teaching abroad includes a specific programme for all the families of the 52 institutions in the French schools network in Lebanon.

We’ve also decided to speed up the creation of a foundation for Eastern Christian schools that will support all the French-speaking institutions in Lebanon and the region, which, as everyone knows, has a tradition of welcoming children of all origins and faiths. So I want to reiterate the importance of this Francophonie we share with Lebanon, a model in terms of support for education, multilingualism and respect for diversity.

Lastly, Minister, cher Nassif, we’ll continue our support for the Lebanese army, the backbone of this State, and for the security forces as a whole, which play a crucial role in guaranteeing the country’s stability and security. It’s essential for the Lebanese State to assert its authority and control throughout the country, and it’s essential for all Lebanon’s leaders to respect and protect this principle of the country’s dissociation from the crises facing the region.

I can’t talk about the difficult regional context Lebanon is in without mentioning the war in Syria. Lebanon is hosting on its territory – very generously, I must emphasize – a very significant number of refugees. We’re aware of this, and I want to pay tribute once again to the Lebanese people’s efforts to make this hospitality possible and assure them that our efforts to enable the safe and dignified return of refugees to Syria will not flag. (…)

Ladies and gentlemen, you may be familiar with the French expression “help yourself and God will help you”.

What I want to say today to Lebanon’s leaders is: “help yourself and France and its partners will help you”. Thank you./.

Published on 28/07/2020

top of the page