Lebanon urgently needs effective government - Minister

Lebanon – International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) – Speech by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs

Paris, 11 December 2019

Special Coordinator, dear friend, Secretary-General, ambassadors, directors, dear friends,

I attach the utmost importance to today’s meeting in Paris of the International Support Group for Lebanon, under the joint presidency of the United Nations and France. I want to thank the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Mr Ján Kubiš, for being here. Your presence and your active efforts testify to the seriousness of the situation in Lebanon, the importance of the country’s stability, both for the Lebanese people and for the region, and the need to coordinate the international community’s messages and action in these circumstances.

It’s because there’s an urgent need to take action that we decided to convene the International Support Group for Lebanon at very short notice. Lebanon is currently in a difficult situation that demands a swift and determined reaction by the Lebanese authorities first of all, a reaction the international community will have to support.

The Lebanese people have been mobilized for several weeks to demand reforms. They must be heard. The country’s economic situation requires it.

The Lebanese financial sector is largely paralysed, with serious consequences for all Lebanese people. Consequences particularly for the country’s businesses, many of which have begun reducing their activities and their employees’ wages.

In this deeply worrying economic context, the protest movement under way is expressing profound aspirations, peacefully and, I believe, with great maturity. The movement, which has lasted nearly two months, has clear and strong demands: the fight against corruption, more transparency, genuine governance and reforms that put the Lebanese economy on the path to growth. It’s up to the Lebanese authorities to respond to the aspirations expressed by the Lebanese people, and to do so as a matter of urgency.

Lebanon, especially today, needs fully functioning institutions. It’s urgent for Lebanon to establish an effective and credible government capable of embarking on the necessary reforms.

So the institutional vacuum that has existed since the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on 29 October is worrying. In this troubling context, I want to pay tribute to the work of the Lebanese Armed Forces, which have been in the front line for nearly two months, in maintaining Lebanon’s stability, Lebanese people’s security and their right to demonstrate peacefully. Lebanon’s stability and its dissociation from regional crises and tensions remain essential for the country and the region.

It is in this difficult context that we are meeting today. The International Support Group for Lebanon brings together all the most important political and economic players for Lebanon, those most committed to preserving its stability, those most committed to the functioning of its institutions and those most committed to its prosperity.

Today, the International Support Group has collectively drawn up a clear road map which plots the path which will allow Lebanon to respond to its main challenges, especially on the economic front. This map defines the main measures the Lebanese authorities would have to take: the Lebanese government committed to most of these measures at the CEDRE conference in Paris back in April 2018. I was there! They are now essential and absolutely crucial in order for the international community to mobilize in support of Lebanon. I really welcome the fact that your work has enabled a joint communiqué to be approved which signals our agreement about this road map.

Central to this road map, there are obviously the expectations the Lebanese have expressed since 17 October 2019: transparency; better governance; sustainability too, at a moment when Lebanon’s economy needs to be rebuilt on new, more robust and resilient foundations; finally, solidarity, at a time when Lebanon needs a more inclusive, fairer economy.

From that point of view, the presence among us – and for the first time as part of the International Support Group’s work – of representatives from regional and international financial institutions is of paramount importance. Their expertise and participation are essential to ensuring that Lebanon’s economic and financial situation recovers.

On the basis of our agreed road map, the commitment of the Lebanese authorities is now crucial. It must be accompanied by the formation of a competent government which is swiftly able to implement all the reforms the country’s situation demands. It is obviously not for the international community to decide the composition of the government, but Lebanon’s leaders; they must put their own interests to one side and keep in mind the general interest of all Lebanese people. The only criterion must be that the government is effective in delivering the reforms the people expect.

Ladies and gentlemen, only this path will allow all the participants around this table, and beyond, to mobilize in order to lend Lebanon the support it needs and which we’re ready to mobilize for that country we hold so dear.

Thank you for listening and being here./.

Lebanon – International Support Group for Lebanon – Final declaration¹

Paris, 11 December 2019

1. A meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG), jointly chaired by France and the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, was held in Paris on December 11th. China, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, the League of Arab States, the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation took part in the meeting. Representatives of the Lebanese authorities also attended the discussions.

2. Lebanon has been left without a government for more than six weeks since Saad Hariri resigned on 29 October. The Group considers that preserving Lebanon’s stability, unity, security, sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity requires the urgent formation of an effective and credible government capable to meet the aspirations expressed by all the Lebanese that will have the capacity and credibility to deliver the necessary substantive policy package of economic reforms, and that will be committed to dissociate the country from regional tensions and crisis. It is urgent for the new government to be in place as quickly as possible.

3. The Group noted that Lebanon faces a deep economic and social crisis which has placed the country at risk of a chaotic unwinding of its economy and of increased instability. In order to halt the sharp deterioration in the economy and financial sector, to restore confidence in the economy and to address, in a sustainable manner, the social and economic challenges, there is an urgent need for the adoption of a substantial, credible and comprehensive policy package of economic reforms to restore fiscal balance and financial stability and address long-lasting structural deficiencies in the Lebanese economy. A sustainable financing model is needed to reduce the economy’s vulnerability and reliance on external funding. These measures are of utmost importance to bring answers to the aspirations expressed by the Lebanese people.

4. The context requires, as part of a stabilization strategy, that Lebanese authorities fully commit themselves to timely and decisive measures and reforms. The Group therefore calls upon Lebanon to immediately adopt a reliable 2020 budget as a first step towards a multi-year fiscal programme, including permanent revenue and expenditure measures, aiming at sustainable improvement of the primary balance, while strengthening social safety nets to protect the poorest and most vulnerable, and a debt management strategy. It also urges the Lebanese authorities to take decisive action to restore the stability and sustainability of the funding model of the financial sector, to tackle corruption and tax evasion (including adoption of an anti-corruption national strategy, the anti-corruption agency law and judicial reform and other measures to instill transparency and accountability), to reform state-owned enterprises and implement the electricity reform plan including governance-enhancing mechanism (through an independent regulatory body), and to markedly improve economic governance and the business environment, through the passing of and effectively implementing procurement laws.

5. On the longer run, within the first six months after the formation of the government, ambitious structural measures to ensure a sustainable economic model should be put in place. The Group reaffirms that the conclusions of the CEDRE Conference, agreed upon by the Lebanese authorities on 6 April 2018, are still valid. In this regard, the Lebanese authority should accelerate implementation of existing projects and commit to prioritize the different projects of the Capital Investment Plan in line with people’s needs and expectations and set up an interministerial committee to oversee their timely implementation. The Group considers that the support from international financial institutions is pivotal to help the authorities sustain their efforts to implement the necessary economic reforms over time.

6. The Group reaffirms its willingness to support a Lebanon committed to reforms in the implementation of such a comprehensive set of actions, including through technical assistance to a new government, and to ensure Lebanon’s access to basic goods and trade facilities, as currently provided for by trade facilitation programmes, to preserve the livelihood of the population and economic resilience. It encourages the Lebanese authorities to identify reasonable and sustainable ways to face the current crisis, notably through support from their development partners, including international financial institutions.

7. The Group commends the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces for their actions in securing the peaceful character of the protests and the rights of citizens more broadly. The Group reiterates that the right to peaceful protest must continue to be respected and calls on all sides to act responsibly.

8. The Lebanese delegation discussed the conclusions of the meeting with its participants. It indicated Lebanon’s appreciation for the support granted by the Group and Lebanon’s determination to implement its conclusions with the support of the international community. Against this backdrop, the Group reaffirmed its readiness to accompany Lebanon in swiftly defining precise measures to be taken and modalities of support, inclusive dialogue with civil society and the private sector being part of this process.

9. The Group welcomes the prospect of future meetings with different configurations and levels as needed./.

¹Source of English text: French Foreign Ministry.

Published on 13/12/2019

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